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Rescue efforts are well underway in the Himalayan state of Sikkim, the epicenter of an earthquake that shook parts of Tibet, Nepal and Bangladesh on Sunday, September 17. The quake, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, has taken the lives of 118 people and injured many more.
Helicopters are being used to deliver food as well as relief material to affected areas within Sikkim. At least 5,000 people are being sheltered in government camps. The Teesta Hydro Electro Project employees feared dead have mostly been counted for and 400 tourists stranded in the remote North have been rescued.
“Rescue workers have now reached most of the villages that had been inaccessible since the quake on Sunday, “ said government spokesman K.S. Topgay. Power in quake epicenter Mangan (district capital of North Sikkim) has been restored, but roads beyond that have been badly affected making it difficult to reach the interior.
Medical teams are being flown in with food and medical supplies, but nine villages still remain completely cut off. Sikkim falls within Zone IV, a high damage risk zone, of the seismological map of the Indian subcontinent.
State finance minister Badal Choudhury said, “Central government should set up at least one station in each of the capitals of all the eight northeastern states with an adequate number of NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) personnel.” Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram also visited the quake-hit areas on Thursday to review the situation.
He said that the prime motive was to provide relief to the 5,000 – 6,000 survivors in camps, and to restore connectivity and water supply. The overall death toll has risen to 118, including 75 in the Himalayan state, while West Bengal has reported 15 deaths, nine in Bihar, 11 in Nepal, seven in Tibet and one in Bhutan.
Tibetan Spiritual leader, H.H. The Dalai Lama has donated 500,000 rupees to affected areas. “I was saddened to learn about the loss of life and damage to property that the recent earthquake has caused across isolated Himalayan regions, particularly in Sikkim.
I offer my sympathy and condolences to all those families, who have been directly affected by what I understand is one of the worst earthquakes in recent memory,” His Holiness said in his letter dated September 20, 2011. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and repairs to the area will cost an estimated $22 billion.
Sikkim is the least populous area in India. Many tourists are drawn to the area for it’s Buddhist monasteries and adventure activities. Sikkim experienced a 3.8 tremor around 10:15 pm Thursday night. East Sikkim district collector D Anandan said, “People came out on the roads and were afraid to go back inside their homes.”
Unfortunately, monsoon weather continues to interfere with rescue efforts to the mountainous region.