Indian Decade

Earthquake Death Toll Climbs

The death toll in Sunday’s earthquake in northeastern India climbs past 50 as rescuers battle poor weather.

Several dozen people have been killed and scores more injured in yesterday’s earthquake in northeastern India and Nepal as rescuers battled against heavy rains.

The temblor, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, was felt around 6.10 pm local time and was centred around the Indo-Nepal border, 68 kilometres from Gangtok, the capital of the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim.

About 60 people have so far reportedly been killed in Sikkim, Bengal and Bihar, while at least nine deaths were reported in Nepal and seven in Tibet.The powerful quake lasted for 30 seconds and was felt in New Delhi.The death toll is expected to continue to rise as rescuers struggle to reach remote areas of Sikkim.

Two strong aftershocks measuring magnitude 6.1 and 5.3 were felt in Sikkim, adding to the heavy damage in some parts of the state. Two buildings belonging to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, located near Gangtok, reportedly collapsed, while at least one person is said to have died in Bihar following a stampede just after the quake. 

Hours after the quake, locals remained standing outside their houses fearing further aftershocks.Meanwhile, landslides were also reported in the Himalayan state, blocking the main National Highway that connects the landlocked region with the rest of India. Feeder roads in the affected states were also said to have suffered landslides, while cell phonecoverage has been patchy at best.

Quoting the Principal Resident Commissioner of Sikkim in New Delhi, Arvind Kumar, NDTV said that there was heavy damage to infrastructure in northern parts of Sikkim, while the neighbouring state of West Bengal had also been hit.

NDTV reported that the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) had shut down its Kehalgaon plant in the Bhagalpur district of Bihar after complications brought on by the tremor, plunging the whole of eastern and northern Bihar into darkness.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to direct Cabinet Secretary Ajit Sethi to call an emergency meeting of the country’s disaster management authority to take stock of the situation, and a crisis management group has reportedly dispatched a team of doctors to the worst affected areas.In addition, the Indian Air force has dispatched five helicopters to assist in rescue efforts in Sikkim. 

By late Monday, the Los Angeles Times and other outlets reported that food and doctors were being airlifted into the affected areas, ‘although these operations were also hampered by poor weather, said R.K. Singh, India’s home secretary.’ The paper noted that in one case, officials had reported 16 landslides in a single six-mile stretch of road.

According to CNN-IBN, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have launched search and rescue operations in the Pegong area of north Sikkim, which has been particularly badly affected, while the paramilitary battalion based in Bihta, Bihar has been requisitioned for relief work in Sikkim. More than a dozen tourists and 150 locals have been rescued by the ITBP, but a lack of electricity is hampering rescue efforts.

Local news agencies say this is worst earthquake to hit the area in decades. Sunday’s quake followed a smaller temblor, measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale, which was felt in New Delhi.