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Quake toll mounts to 27 as rescue operations continue

 

At least 27 people have died in the powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck the Sikkim-Nepal border yesterday evening and was felt across most of North, East and North-East India.

A UNI report said scores of people were injured in the quake, which also caused heavy damages to property and infrastructure.

It said at least 14 people, including two army personnel, were killed in different parts of Sikkim's four districts, which were cut off from the rest of the country after massive mudslides triggered by the tremors.

The worst affected was the north district, which is close to the epicentre of the quake, which occurred at 1812 hours yesterday.

Reports reaching here said six people had died in West Bengal, two in Bihar and at least five in the neighbouring country of Nepal.

The epicentre of the quake was near Mangan, about 60 km from Gangtok.

Several landslides were reported along the 120 km National Highway (NH) 31, the main artery connecting Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, with the nearest railhead at Siliguri in West Bengal.

Of the six deaths reported in north Bengal, three were in Siliguri district and one each in Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mal Bazar in Jalpaiguri district.

Buildings of the Siliguri Muncipal Corproation, fire brigade and some multi-storied structures developed cracks in the quake.

At least 200 people were injured in Siliguri, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, initial reports said.

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said rescue operations had been taken up round the clock by personnel of the army, paramilitary organisations and the police.

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had spoken to Mr Chambling soon after the quake yesterday and assured the state all help from the Centre to cope with the crisis.

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) had rescued 300 villagers and moved them to safety yesterday, along with some 25 foreign tourists.

About 1000 people have been given shelter in tents in and around Gangtok.

Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) had reached Siliguri in the night, after landing at Bagdogra from Delh and Kolkata, but their movement to Sikkim was hampered by the mudslides and bad weather.

In Bihar, two people, including a girl child, were killed in Darbhanga and Nalanda district. Several high-rise buildings had developed cracks.

In Darbhanga, a person died in a stampede when people were trying to rush out of their houses after the quake. In Nalanda disrict, a girl died when a wall collapsed at Harnaut.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh to the families of those killed in the earthquake.

A UNI report from Kathmandu said at least five people were killed and more than 60 injured in the Himalayan country. The five deaths were reported from the capital city of Kathmandu and Sunsari district in eastern Nepal.

Three people - a man, his daughter and a motorcyclist - died in Kathmandu when the compound wall of the British embassy collapsed due to the tremor. In Dharan, a man and a five-year-old boy died when the ceiling of their house caved in, the report said.

In Delhi, the Union Home Ministry said five teams of the NDRF, comprising 203 personnel, along with necessary rescue equipment, had reached Bagdogra from Delhi in the early hours of today.

Another five teams of NDRF personnel, consisting of 200 men, had also flown in from Kolkata. Yet another group of 100 personnel were due to land shortly.

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These personnel as well as a medical team of 20 doctors, including four surgeons, seven orthopaedicians, five anaesthists, two neuro surgeons and two physicians, were held up at Bagdogra due to the landslides which had caused road blocks at various points on the highway.

An official press release quoted the Director General, Border Roads, as saying that there were some 16 landslides in a stretch of 10 km. Efforts were on to clear the roads, but a clear estimate of the time that would be taken was not available, it said. Access through an alternate road was also being explored.

More than 700 personnel of the ITBP were already engaged in rescue and relief operations in Sikkim, the release said.

According to the release, Home Ministry officials, along withNational Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the NDRF personnel, have been working round the clock since the quake occurred to mobilize and facilitate response teams.

"The situation is being closely monitored and every possible assistance is being extended to the State Government," the release added.

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