M A I N   N E W S

Quake toll 72, landslides derail rescue operations
Maximum casualties in Sikkim n Aftershocks keep people on tenterhooks n Inclement weather compounds woes n Many areas without power
Tribune News Service/PTI

New Delhi/Gangtok, Sept 19
Landslides and inclement weather today hampered rescue operations in the quake-hit Sikkim as the death toll in the 6.8 magnitude temblor mounted to 72, including 41 in the Himalayan state.

The Sunday evening earthquake, with its epicentre near the Sikkim-Nepal border, 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.

The death toll may go up. Union Home Secretary RK Singh said people may still be trapped under the debris and rescue teams were still trying hard to reach all villages. Food packets were air-dropped in the inaccessible quake-affected areas. Two medical teams with doctors and paramedics reached worst affected Mangan and Sangthan with the help of helicopters and the Border Roads Organisation has been able to reopen the Himalayan state’s life line - the National Highway 31-A, RK Singh said.

West and South districts in Sikkim remained mostly inaccessible to the Army in the earlier part of the day due to landslides and inclement weather and rescuers were facing an uphill task to reach these areas, Major General SL Narasimhan, GoC, 17 Mountain Division, said.

Sikkim accounted for 41 deaths alone, 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.

The Home Secretary said 10 bodies of employees of Teesta Hydro Electric Project were recovered from the debris in Singtam. The overnight toll climbed to 72 which included nine deaths in West Bengal and eight in Bihar, seven each Nepal and Tibet. Over 100 persons have been hurt. As many as 22 persons travelling in a bus went missing since last evening in north Sikkim. A spokesman of the 17 Mountain Division said the Army was still not able to find the missing bus. Rescue workers struggled hard to clear boulders blocking roads. An official update in Delhi tonight said the NH-55 from Bagdogra to Darjeeling has been restored and the highway from Darjeeling to Nathu La is expected to be cleared by 6 pm tomorrow.

The Mi-17 helicopters have been pressed into service carrying material, supplies and food to remote parts of the state while Cheetah & Chetak choppers are being used to rescue individuals and also for aerial reconnaissance. More than a dozen choppers of the Army aviation wing are on a stand-by at a nearby base. Transport planes like the IL-76 and the C-130-J Super Hercules are also being used to carry men and machines to Bagdogra.

“As many as 10 doctors have been airlifted to Chungthang in North Sikkim and medicines are being airlifted to Bagdogra from where they will be sent to Chungthang. 20 medical detachments have been deployed by the Army,” the official update said.

The optical fiber link to Gangtok which had been disrupted is now restored.

The Army has opened relief camps for 2,000 persons and the ITBP opened camps for 400 others. The Home Secretary said the Sikkim power corporation has been able to restore power connection partially. The Army has launched ‘Operation Madad’ in Gangtok and other areas. “We are also sending teams to Darjeeling and Kalimpong (in West Bengal),” he said. About 400 people from quake-hit areas in North Sikkim have been rescued and taken to safe locations, the Indo- Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) said. Besides 26 tourists, including international visitors, were also taken to safe places and the road connectivity in the worst-hit Pegong area is likely to be restored soon.

ITBP Director General Ranjit Sinha said. Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling visited the quake-hit areas in and around Gangtok to assess damages.

The Chief Minister 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.

In Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Rs two lakh as ex gratia to next of the kin of those killed in the quake.

7 dead in Tibet

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.

Nepal death count 7

Three persons were killed at Lainchaur in Kathmandu, two in Sunsari district, and one each in Dhankuta and Sankhuwasabha districts in eastern Nepal due to the quake that struck the Himalayan belt, according to Home Ministry sources in the Nepalese capital.

Prisoners in Jalpaiguri jail try to escape

Kolkata: Prisoners in Jalpaiguri jail tried to escape on Sunday night as some of the doors and windows collapsed under the impact of the quake. Nearly 1,100 prisoners manage to come out of their cells in the Jalpaiguri Central Correctional Home. However, the authorities immediately took control of the situation. Extra police force was immediately posted outside the jail.— PTI





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