Relief teams scramble to rescue victims

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Earthquake
Mangan(Sikkim), Sept 20: Digging through landslide debris, troops and relief teams are scrambling to rescue victims of the earthquake in remote mountainous areas in Sikkim after they reached an area here today (Sept 20) closest to its epicentre.

The death toll in Sikkim rose to 50 after the 6.8 magnitude quake struck this Himalayan state and neighbouring areas on Sunday, officials said, adding the overall death toll in the region rose to 79.

In some silver lining for thousands of rescue personnel, the road connecting worst affected Mangan with the state capital Gangtok, 65 km from here, was reopened to help them make make a quicker push towards isolated areas in what could be a herculean effort. However, fears of fresh landslides posed a threat to the reopened road.

A small group of rescue personnel was brought in by army helicopters here today following a slight improvement in the weather.

Officials here said that it could take three to four days to reach northern villages like Chungthang, about 55 kms from here, where people are feared trapped in debris.

"The road from Gangtok to Mangan is open. The number of deaths as reported by the Sikkim government is 50. This may increase further as rescue and relief teams reach into the interiors," Union Home Secreetary R K Singh told reporters in New Delhi.

A PTI correspondent visiting some of the quake-hit areas of Sikkim found the people still in a state of panic. They are so frightful that they are not entering their houses which have developed cracks or remained tilted after the calamity.

Many people were found sitting on roadsides, public places and near temples. Hundreds of people spent a second night in the open as aftershocks continued.

Rescue teams were also using explosives to try to force their way through blocked roads. Stranded tourists have not yet been able to leave Gangtok and other places of the state as roads are either damaged or blocked by landslides.

"We can return only after the roads open. We are still in shock and cannot forget the trauma of the quake ... Most of the time we are staying outside," said Joy Basu, a resident of Sodepur near Kolkata visiting the mountain state with his family.

PTI

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