Sikkim toll touches 23, inclement weather affects relief work

Another eight persons, who were travelling in a bus of Teesta Urja Limited Company in north district, are presumed to be dead after their vehicle got stuck under the debris, Major General S L Narasimhan of GOC 17 Mountain Division, told reporters here.

Deploying 2500 troops and 84 columns, the Army has launched 'Operation Madad' in the state, he said.

"Around 44 columns are working in Sikkim, another 15 in the east district of state. We are also sending teams to Darjeeling and Kalimpong," he said.

Two districts, west and south, remain inaccessible for the Army so far and no relief work has reached these areas.

"However, the local administration are onto relief work on their own. Army's local commanders have also been alerted," Narasimhan said.

The casualties have occurred mostly in the north district and in towns and villages like Rangpo, Dikchu, Singtam and Chungthang located along the Teesta river, officials in the district control room said.

A group of 14 tourists were rescued by the Army from north Sikkim last night, he said, adding they have been admitted to Chungthang Army Hospital.

Around 300 rescue workers from the National Disaster Response Force are stuck at Bagdogra airport as chopper services to Gangtok is suspended due to inclement weather.

At Gangtok's STNM Hospital, around the hundred injured are refraining from getting admitted due to fear psychosis as the walls of the hospital have developed cracks.

Officials said around 70 per cent of all houses and buildings in the state are damaged.

Around 1000 structures have collapsed while a total of one lakh buildings and houses have been damaged, they said, adding the state secretariat building at Tashiling and Sadar police station have also bore the brunt of the quake.

The state government has announced a state holiday today and all schools and offices have been asked to remain closed.

Surface communications in the landlocked state remain affected as NH-31A is closed due to blockages at 20 places in Sikkim and West Bengal.

"Repair work on the roads have been started by the Army and the BRO," Narasimhan said, adding that six major landslides have been reported from the neighbouring West Bengal and five in Sikkim.

The Army has opened kitchens and served food to around 2000 people in and around Gangtok.

The BRO and the Army are trying to clear the landslides so that road communication can improve and relief work can reach the quake victims.

"All local military commandos have been alerted and have been asked to visit the affected areas. Two relief camps have also been set up-- one in Chungthang and another in Darjeeling," Army officials said.

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling has announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the kins of the deceased, Rs 50,000 for those grievously injured and Rs 25,000 for those with minor injuries.

At a high-level meeting at his private residence, Chamling has asked the department secretaries to oversee the relief work in the four districts of the state.

Compensation has also been announced for those whose cattle died and buildings were damaged.

West Bengal Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan said in Kolkata that roads were being cleared to bring back tourists stranded in Sikkim.

The epicentre of the powerful 6.8 magnitude tremblor-- the biggest in two decades-- was located at Mangan and Sakyong areas, over 50 km from Gangtok on the Sikkim-Nepal border.

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