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Massive relief operations in Sikkim as quake toll rises to 49

Members of Border Roads Organisation clearing a road after a landslide at Mirik, 70 km from Siliguri on the way to Sikkim on September 19, 2011, a day afer an earthquake rocked the region. UNI PHOTO
Members of Border Roads Organisation clearing a road after a landslide at Mirik, 70 km from Siliguri on the way to Sikkim on September 19, 2011, a day afer an earthquake rocked the region. UNI PHOTO

Massive relief operations were underway in Sikkim and nearby states even as the death toll in the powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck the region yesterday evening and shook most of North, East and North-East India rose to 49 today.

Official sources said here today that as many as 35 people were killed in Sikkim, including two Army personnel as well as a junior engineer of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), who died during the rescue efforts.

At least 12 people were killed in West Bengal, while two people died in Bihar, a UNI report said.

The quake also shook neighbouring Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Tibet. Seven deaths were reported in Nepal and seven in Tibet, reports said.

At least 75 people have been hospitalised in Sikkim and several hundred public buildings and private houses had suffered damage in the quake, said to be the strongest to hit the region in decades.

The sources said the Secretariat building at Gangtok was also badly affected.

The worst affected area in Sikkim was the north district, which is close to the epicentre of the quake near Mangan, about 60 km from Gangtok, which occurred at 1812 hours yesterday.

The Sikkim government has announced ex-gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the next of kin of those killed, Rs 50,000 for those who have suffered serious injuries and Rs 30,000 for those with minor injuries.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of those killed and Rs 1 lakh for those serious injured.

Rescue and relief equipments and materials being loaded on an Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft for the earthquake victims in Sikkim in the North-East sector in the night of September 18, 2011. UNI PHOTO
Rescue and relief equipments and materials being loaded on an Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft for the earthquake victims in Sikkim in the North-East sector in the night of September 18, 2011. UNI PHOTO

Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), who had arrived in the wee hours of today at Bagdogra airport from Delhi and Kolkata, were stranded there because the National Highway 31 A had suffered landslides at over 21 places over a cumulative length of 700 metres. Men of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) were able to make the highway functional till Singtam by this afternoon.

The sources said the damage of the 61 km road from Gangtok to Nathula wais yet to be assessed fully. The first 24 kms of road has been surveyed so far showing 12 landslides and severe damage to the road-formation over a cumulative stretch of 90 meters. Restoration of this road is unlikely to take place immediately, they said.

The North Sikkim Highway from Gangtok to Chungthang (95 km) was also affected badly, with at least 16 landslides. The road was likely to be opened for traffic today itself.

The sources said120 columns of Army including 10 engineering columns, have also been deployed in restoration and relief work.

They said the power situation had improved, with all the major power generating stations becoming operational and the 220 Kv lines fully restored. The 66 Kv line from Gangtok to Tadong was yet to be restored, however.

Landline telephone lines had been fully restored, and more than half of the mobile telephone towers were also functioning.

The sources said a team of nine doctors and 10 paramedics from Delhi has already reached Siliguri and would proceed to Gangtok once the Siliguri-Darjeeling road is restored.

ITBP personnel inspecting a damaged house in Pegong on September 19, 2011, a day after several people were rendered homeless after an earthquake of 6.8 magnituade rocked Sikkim and neighbouring states. UNI PHOTO
ITBP personnel inspecting a damaged house in Pegong on September 19, 2011, a day after several people were rendered homeless after an earthquake of 6.8 magnituade rocked Sikkim and neighbouring states. UNI PHOTO

The state governments of West Bengal and Sikkim have been advised to take care to regulate and prioritise the movement of traffic on the road to avoid blockade due to the sudden rush of vehicles and to ensure that essential manpower, equipment and supplies for relief and rescue work were able to get through first.

The sources said there was no shortage of essential commodities in Sikkim.

The Chief Secretary, Sikkim has been advised to open community shelters and feeding centres in inaccessible pockets. At present, 1500 persons have taken shelter in Army camps and 10 "langars" are being run to feed them.

The Chief Secretary, West Bengal has been advised to keep enough quantity of packets of dry foods, matchboxes, candle and medicine ready at Siliguri for air-dropping. Presently, air dropping of food packets is not possible because of adverse weather conditions/heavy rains in and around Gangtok, But Defence Secretary has been advised to drop some packets quickly, weather permitting.

The sources said the weather in Sikkim continued to be inclement. As a result, sorties by helicopters were not possible today. However, helicopters, including an MN-17 for air-dropping of supplies, are in readiness.

The National Crisis Management Committee, which met here today to assess the situation under the chairmanship of Union Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, was due to meet again this evening.

NNN

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