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At least seven dead, 20 rescued alive in massive avalanche near China border in Sikkim

Among those dead are a woman and a child
alyan Ray
Last Updated : 04 April 2023, 16:48 IST
Last Updated : 04 April 2023, 16:48 IST
Last Updated : 04 April 2023, 16:48 IST
Last Updated : 04 April 2023, 16:48 IST

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At least seven individuals, mostly tourists, were killed when a massive avalanche hit the Gangtok-Nathu La road in southeast Sikkim on Tuesday morning while many were feared to be trapped under piles of snow, Indian Army sources said.

Till about 5 pm, 27 persons were pulled out of the snow by the rescue forces of which seven including a woman and a child were dead, according to a Sikkim government official. The rest were administered first aid and sent to STNM hospital in Gangtok.

“While search operations were underway in the morning and afternoon, there was one more slide at the same location at 5:35 pm. It also started snowing in the late afternoon making the rescue operations dangerous. Accordingly, the rescue and search operations were called off by the District Collector due to the fear of more such slides,” Army sources said.

Around 11.30 am, the avalanche hit the Gangtok-Nathu La road near a landmark known as 15 Miles. Even though early assessment suggests 5-6 vehicles in which 20-30 tourists were travelling were hit by the massive wall of snow, sources said the number could be more.

Nearly 250 troops of the Indian Army’s 33 Corps led by 10 officers along with Border Roads Organisation personnel, Sikkim police, disaster response teams, local tour operators and taxi drivers swung into action and launched a rescue mission.

The arterial road that links Sikkim capital to the areas close to the India-China border was closed in the evening following the second slide, though it was kept open for traffic earlier in the day.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the Centre was closely monitoring the situation, and National Disaster Response Forces teams will reach the area soon.

"My sincerest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in the tragic avalanche in Sikkim. We are closely monitoring the situation and the teams of NDRF will reach the affected area soon. I pray for the speedy recovery of those injured," he tweeted. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee too expressed her condolences.

At 14,450 feet above sea level, Nathu La is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China. It is a major tourist destination because of its scenic beauty. Another popular tourist destination nearby is Changgu (Tsomgo) Lake.

The tourists were not permitted to travel beyond Milestone 13 due to inclement weather, but they forced the tour operators and the drivers to take them to the area where the incident happened, a police officer said.

While it is not clear at the moment whether the Defence Geoinformatics Research Establishment (formerly known as Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment or SASE) – one of the DRDO units – had issued any avalanche alert for southeast Sikkim, sources said whenever such alerts came from the DGRE, the civil administration stopped issuing tourist passes.

India Meteorological Department officials said Sikkim had been receiving rainfall/snowfall (at higher reaches) since last Friday and it would continue in the next few days. Gangtok received 50 mm of rainfall in the last 24 hours. But the IMD doesn’t have any snow gauges in that region.

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Published 04 April 2023, 10:07 IST

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