Landslides hit rescue operations

42 people reported dead across north and east India in the 6.9 magnitude earthquake; bad weather hampers rescue and relief operations, fuelling fears of an increase in number of casualties

At least 42 people had perished across north and east India yesterday in the powerful earthquake that originated at its border with Nepal even as rescue and relief operations were hampered by landslides and bad weather, fuelling fears of a rise in casualties.

Where's my home? A Buddhist monk looks at the rubble where his
home stood at Enchey Monastery in Gangtok yesterday, after a
6.9-magnitude earthquake hit the region. pic/afp

In Sikkim, where the epicentre of Sunday's 6.9 magnitude temblor lay and which was the worst hit, 35 people were killed. Over 200 were injured, 25 bridges developed cracks and scores of buildings were damaged.

Besides, five people died in West Bengal and two in Bihar, said Home Secretary R K Singh.

"The possibility of the toll going up is there," he told reporters in New Delhi.

Sikkim passed through one of its darkest hours, with landslides snapping its only road link with the rest of the world and preventing disaster response teams from reaching affected sitesĀ -- a problem compounded by incessant rain. The road from Bagdogra to the Sikkim capital Gangtok could be restored only by late afternoon.

"The road is open. Power has been restored in Gangtok," the home secretary said.

But it's a long way to recovery. "It's death and destruction in Sikkim now with people still in a state of shock. Most houses in Gangtok have suffered wide cracks, even gaping cracks seen on the main roads," said Arun Gurung, a businessman in Gangtok.

Army deployed
About 6,200 personnel from the army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) did manage to fan out to victims. More than 400 people, including 26 tourists, were rescued by security personnel, despite rough weather and bad terrain.

The quake has not only affected a wide swathe of India, but neighbouring areas like Nepal and Tibet reported casualties too.

Roads blocked
Sikkim was cut off from the rest of the country, with the national highway 31-A blocked in at least eight places, for much of the day. Ten teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), including rescue and medical officers, and a team of doctors waited for hours to reach quake-affected areas.

"I saw at least six vehicles damaged, hit by landslides with boulders smashing the vehicles on the highway," said Ravi Lepcha, a teacher in Gangtok.

The Himalayan state feared that the death toll would spiral. C B Karki, Sikkim information minister, said, "The casualty figure might go up as we are still getting reports of deaths and injuries from remote areas.
Telecommunication facilities are down and hence information is hard to come by from the interior areas."

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