GANGTOK, India, Monday
Rescue teams battled landslides and torrential monsoon rains today after a powerful earthquake rocked a vast and remote Himalayan region, killing at least 63 people in India, Nepal and Tibet.
The epicentre of Sunday’s 6.9-magnitude earthquake was an isolated area of the border between India’s Sikkim state and Nepal, and there were fears the toll could rise as reports filtered in from distant towns and villages.
The heavy rains and low cloud grounded helicopters and Indian relief and rescue teams trying to access the Sikkim state capital Gangtok were blocked by landslides on the only viable highway.
“Our rescue teams are stuck in that corridor,” said National Disaster Response Force spokesman Surendra Ahlawat. “The conditions are terrible, but road crews are doing their best.”
More than 5,000 army troops were deployed in the area to try and restore overland links with Gangtok and further north towards the nearby epicentre.
“The biggest challenge now is to get the rescue teams to the affected areas,” said Sikkim Information Minister C.B. Karki.
The death toll in the state stood at 35, with five people killed in Gangtok and the others dying in building collapses and landslides in outlying areas, including two soldiers on road-clearing duty.
“There’s a good chance the toll could rise as rescue teams begin to access the more remote areas,” said G. Anandan, chief of the central emergency control room in Gangtok.
Tremors were felt more than 1,000 kilometres away in New Delhi to the west, and in Bangladesh to the east.
In Nepal, police said a motorcyclist and his eight-year-old daughter were among three killed when a perimeter wall crumbled at the British embassy compound in the capital Kathmandu, 270 kilometres west of the epicentre.
Five others were killed in separate incidents in eastern Nepal.
A budget debate in Nepal’s parliament stopped for 15 minutes when lawmakers leapt to their feet and fled the chamber as the entire building shook.
More than 100 people were injured by mudslides, falling debris and collapsing buildings in Gangtok, where thousands spent the night in the streets after repeated aftershocks sparked further panic.
“People are still very worried and tense. Everything is shut down and nearly everyone is still out in the street because they’re scared of another quake,” said Gangtok resident Indira Singh. (AFP)