Quake toll climbs to 71, rescue work hampered by landslides

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GANGTOK, September 19: Landslides and inclement weather on Monday hampered rescue operations in quake-hit Sikkim as the death toll in the 6.8-magnitude temblor mounted to 71, including 41 in the Himalayan State.

The earthquake, which struck on Sunday evening, left a trail of devastation damaging roads, buildings and other structures, uprooting mobile phone towers and snapping communication and power lines. Aftershocks made people panic in several areas forcing them to spend the night outdoors.

West and South districts in Sikkim remained inaccessible to the Army due to landslides and inclement weather and rescuers were facing an uphill task to reach these areas, Major General S.L. Narasimhan, GOC 17 Mountain Division told reporters in Gangtok.

Sikkim alone accounted for 39 deaths, with most casualties taking place in the North District and in towns and villages like Rangpo, Dikchu, Singtam and Chungthang located along the course of Teesta river, officials in the district control room said.

Teesta project mishap

Eight persons travelling in a bus of Teesta Urja Limited in North District are presumed dead as their vehicle got stuck under debris caused by a landslide, Narasimhan said. This, however, has not been incorporated in the official figure of those killed.

The overnight toll climbed to 66 which included six deaths in West Bengal and seven each in Bihar, Nepal and Tibet, official reports said. Over a hundred people have been injured.

Army`s rescue operation

Mj. Gen. Narasimhan said Army has launched ‘Operation Madad’ in Gangtok and other areas by deploying over 2,500 troops.”We are also sending teams to Darjeeling and Kalimpong (in West Bengal),” he said.

A group of 14 tourists were rescued by the army from north Sikkim last night, Maj. Gen. Narasimhan said.

Ex gratia

In Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Rs. 2 lakh as ex gratia to next of kin of those killed in the earthquake and Rs. 1 lakh each for those seriously injured.

Six people have died in different areas of north Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is on her way to Kurseong in Darjeeling district, said, adding she would review the situation there with officials.

She said efforts were on to repair the damages to NH-31A and NH-55 caused by landslides on a war-footing. She also announced compensation of Rs two lakh each for the next of kin of those who died in the State.

In Gangtok, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the kin of the deceased, Rs 50,000 for those grievously injured and Rs 25,000 for those with minor injuries.

Union Home Secretary R K Singh said in Delhi that road communication in Sikkim, disrupted due to landslides, were being opened with the help of Border Roads Organisation personnel.

In Bihar, seven people have died with several houses being damaged in four districts. While Darbhanga alone accounted for four deaths, one each was reported from Nawada, Nalanda and Bhagalpur districts, officials at the state headquarters said.

Quake damage outside India

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported that at least seven persons have been killed and 22 others injured in Tibet in the quake which has caused landslides and has disrupted traffic, power and water supplies as well as telecommunication in Yadong County, an area 40 km away from Sikkim.

Three people were killed at Lainchaur in Kathmandu, two in Sunsari district, and one each in Dhankuta and Sankhuwasabha districts in eastern Nepal, according to Home Ministry sources in the Nepalese capital.

Around 300 rescue workers from the National Disaster Response Force were stuck at Bagdogra Airport as chopper services to Gangtok have been suspended due to inclement weather, officials said.

Aftershocks

Seismic observatory in Shillong said that an earthquake of 4.3 magnitude on the Richter scale shook parts of Meghalaya on Monday.

An official in Gangtok said power was restored on Monday morning.

At least 20 aftershocks throughout the night had created panic in the city, they said.

Many buildings in and around Gangtok have collapsed and a majority of structures and houses have developed cracks due to the quake, they said.

Most of the areas in north Sikkim have been cut-off from the rest of the country as roads were blocked and communication lines got snapped. All BSNL telephone landlines in Gangtok went dead since last evening. The Sadar police station in Gangtok was hit badly.

The epicentre of the quake — the biggest in two decades — was located at Mangan and Sakyong areas, over 50 km from Gangtok on the Sikkim-Nepal border.

Tremors were also felt in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chandigarh and Delhi.

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