Rescuers race to quake-hit villages

2011-09-19 14:34

Gauhati - Rescue workers raced on Monday to clear roads blocked by mudslides as they attempted to reach remote villages cut off after a powerful earthquake killed at least 55 people and damaged more than a 100 000 homes in northeast India, Nepal and Tibet.

Hundreds of paramilitary soldiers and local police cleared away concrete slabs, bricks and mud to rescue scores of people trapped under the debris of houses that collapsed after the 6.9-magnitude quake struck the mountainous Himalayan region Sunday evening.

At least 30 people died in the northeast Indian state of Sikkim, where the quake was centred near India's border with Nepal, officials said.

Paramilitary soldiers pulled out 23 bodies and located seven others buried under mounds of concrete in Gangtok, Sikkim's capital, said police Chief Jasbir Singh. At least 50 people, some with serious injuries, were hospitalised, he said.

Houses weakened from monsoon rains

Another 11 people were killed in the neighbouring Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal. Seven people died in Nepal, and China's official Xinhua News Agency reported seven deaths in Tibet.

Most of the deaths occurred when houses, already weakened from recent monsoon rains, collapsed due to the force of the quake.

Heavy rains and landslides hampered rescue workers as they worked through the night to pull people from under the rubble, Singh said.

By midday on Monday, workers had managed to clear the debris of landslides from one lane of the main highway connecting Sikkim, and an initial convoy of 75 paramilitary soldiers had started moving toward Mangan, the village closest to the quake's epicentre, officials said.

In Gangtok, police cordoned off the office of the state's top elected official after the building was severely damaged in the quake, Singh said.

Much of the damage near the epicentre was not immediately known because the region is sparsely populated with many people living in remote areas cut off by mudslides triggered by the quake.

Rain continued to fall intermittently on Monday afternoon and the sky was heavily overcast.

Indian state left in darkness

Nepal's government said seven people died there, including two men and a child who were killed when a brick wall toppled outside the British Embassy in the capital, Katmandu. Nearly 70 people were injured, some of them seriously, and were in hospitals across Nepal.

TV broadcasters showed footage of buildings buckled, cracked pavements and two major roads collapsed in Gangtok, 68km southeast of the quake's epicentre near the border with Nepal. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police said two of its buildings had collapsed in Gangtok.

In India's West Bengal state, workers toiled through the night to restore power to a large swathe of the state which plunged into darkness after power lines were snapped.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summoned the National Disaster Management Authority for an emergency meeting and ordered that rescue teams be airlifted to the worst hit areas of Sikkim.

The quake was felt as far as the Indian capital, with New Delhi residents also rushing out of shaking buildings. The quake caused some houses in China's Himalayan region of Tibet to collapse.

There were at least two aftershocks of magnitude 6.1 and 5.3, Indian seismology official RS Dattatreyan said. He warned more aftershocks were possible.

The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897.