Tue, Sep 20, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Rain, landslides hamper Himalaya quake rescue

Reuters, GUWAHATI, INDIA

Soldiers and rescue workers hiked in lashing rain to isolated Himalayan villages yesterday in search of survivors after a magnitude 6.9 earthquake killed at least 63 people in India, Nepal and China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Rescuers workers pulled victims from rubble as the number of casualties climbed to 31 in the “Shangri-la” northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, the epicenter of Sunday night’s quake felt more than 800km away in New Delhi.

Thick cloud prevented helicopters from flying over the affected areas, home to some of the world’s highest peaks, but some mountain passes blocked by landslides were reopened, police helping rescue efforts said.

“The earthquake has loosened the hill-faces, and when it rains, it causes landslides. So the situation is still very dangerous,” said Deepak Pandey, spokesman for the Indo-Tibetan Border police.

“We have rescued more than 400 people since last night,” including from the worst hit area Pegong in the north, Pandey said.

It may take days for the final number of casualties to be -confirmed, but border police said they did not think the death toll would be on a massive scale.

At least two died in Bihar State, south of Sikkim, while six died in the Indian state of West Bengal.

Television pictures showed people in Sikkim’s main city, Gangtok, sitting on roadsides under umbrellas in the heavy rain — reluctant to go inside their homes for fear of aftershocks.

“People are still panicky,” Gangtok resident Pawan Thapa told reporters by telephone after the quake that shook buildings for more than a minute. “We spent the whole night outside our homes.”

It has been raining for four straight days in parts of Sikkim. The temperature in the quake zone was about 8°C and could drop overnight.

“Let’s pray that the weather gets better,” army spokesman Om Singh said.

Shops, businesses and offices were closed in Gangtok and neighboring areas, the resident said. Many towns remained without electricity. Water supplies were scarce because of burst pipes and telephone communication was patchy.

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