Sikkim earthquake: Death toll rises to 112

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GANGTOK, September 22 (agencies): Three days since the earthquake struck Sikkim, the devastation still unfolding. With 20 more bodies have been recovered on Wednesday, the total death toll climbed to 112, mostly in Sikkim. Several hundreds are still believed to be stranded in the worst affected north districts of Sikkim.

Sikkim has suffered a loss of about Rs 1 lakh crore due to the 6.8 magnitude earthquake, said Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.

Aerial pictures showed that the earthquake ripped apart the landscape in the stretch between Gangtok and Chung Thang, causing cracks, landslides and much destruction. The pictures also showed the destruction at the Teesta Dam site where several people lost their lives.

At Chung Thang in North Sikkim, one of the worst affected sites, a school building one of the worst affected structures. Fortunately, it was a Sunday, so there were no students.

“I had constructed the school by collecting every single penny. Quake has damaged property of around Rs 5 lakh,” said the Principal of the school.

Around 80 per cent of the houses at Chung Thang have suffered damages with major and minor cracks. Several people have lost their lives and many families have been displaced.

Relief and rescue operations have picked up speed on Wednesday and with the weather clearing up, authorities hope to get access to stranded areas.

Meanwhile, electricity has been restored in Gangtok and officials say other towns will have full power supply within the next few days. However, restoration of communication lines still remains a big challenge. National Highway 55, which connects Bagdogra to Darjeeling and National Highway 31, that links Gangtok to Bagdogra, have been restored.

The relief and rescue workers have raced against time to open the arterial National Highway 31 that cut off the state since Sunday evening. By Tuesday evening rescue workers were able to clear the landslides both from Bagdogra to Gangtok and Gangtok to Mangan. In the process, though, two Army jawans were killed.

Nine helicopters were mobilised and 10 doctors airlifted to Chungthang in North Sikkim. The Army has also deployed 10 medical units.

The Army says restoring communication lines beyond Mangan will be the next big challenge.

“The biggest challenge right now is to get the lines of communication through, to supply food to needy people. Road beyond Mangan is very bad and it will take more than 20 days,” said Lt Gen Bikram Singh.

The enormity of the damage is finally emerging, besides the loss to human lives. Over 15,000 houses were razed to the ground and more than 1 lakh were partially damaged.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister`s Office has announced an ex-gratia of Rs two lakh for the family of the deceased in Sunday`s earthquake in West Bengal.

State Disaster Management secretary Indevar Pandey said on Wednesday that the PMO, in a communique to West Bengal chief secretary, also announced an ex-gratia of Rs one lakh to those seriously injured.

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