At least 42 people have died in India, most of them in Sikkim, others in neighbouring Bihar and West Bengal. The earthquake, which measured 6.8 on the Richter Scale and was centred on the Sikkim-Nepal border 64 kilometres north-west of Gangtok, is the region’s worst in 60 years. Among the toughest parts of the recovery is the operation to re-open National Highway 31A which connects Sikkim to the rest of the country, and is needed to bring in food and other supplies.
12 people have also died in Nepal and Tibet, pushing the death toll to 54. Indian Home Secretary RK Singh said that number may rise as rescue and relief operations progress.
Heavy rain in the area caused landslides through the night and much of today, making it tough for doctors and others to reach the Western and Southern districts in Sikkim. Nine helicopters are being used to airdrop food and other supplies to areas like Siliguri.
A breakthrough came late this afternoon when the Army was able to clear a crucial road from Siliguri in West Bengal to Gangtok. More than 5000 Army jawans are being used to provide assistance to those affected. 2000 people have taken shelter at Army camps.
In Sikkim’s capital, Gangtok, the devastation seems absolute. More than 100,000 buildings have been severely damaged. Government offices and hospitals have been left unusable. The CM cannot use his office. Water and power supply remain erratic; phone towers have been hit, making communication tough.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, who is headed to Darjeeling, said that her priority is to ensure that National Highways 31A and 55, damaged by landslides, are repaired urgently so that food and other supplies can be transported.
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.