Remote India villages reached; quake toll hits 104
MANGAN, India—Rescuers on Thursday finally reached some of the villages in India’s remote northeast that were cut off by a powerful earthquake that rattled the Himalayan region last weekend, as the death toll in the disaster climbed past 100.
Rescue efforts had been hampered by heavy rains that kept helicopters grounded and mudslides triggered by Sunday evening’s magnitude-6.9 quake that blocked roads leading to villages in the remote, mountainous region.
As the weather improved Thursday, with no rain, helicopters were able to ferry relief workers to some inaccessible areas for the first time, said R. Sahu, an Indian air force spokesman. Other workers kept at efforts on the ground, using heavy machinery and dynamite to clear roads.
Sahu said nine villages with a combined population of nearly 1,000 were still cut off, but aircraft had been able to drop rice and other supplies to those stranded.
India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on Thursday visited some of the hardest-hit areas and said the army assured him that by Friday at the latest they would be able to access the nine villages by road.
Police said five bodies were found in the Mangan area close to the epicenter of the quake, which claimed lives in northeastern India, Tibet and Nepal.
The 104 confirmed deaths from the quake were spread across a wide swath of the sparsely populated Himalayan region, with officials reporting 73 dead in the worst-hit state of Sikkim, 12 in West Bengal, six in Bihar, six in the neighboring Nepal and another seven in the Chinese region of Tibet. Word on casualties and damage from the cut off villages has been slow to come by, and the toll was expected to rise.
On Wednesday, officials finally made their way to a remote hydroelectric project in the region where they confirmed that 17 people had been killed in quake-triggered landslides and another person was missing.
Sikkim’s chief minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling, told reporters Wednesday that according to initial estimates, the earthquake had caused losses and damage worth 1 trillion rupees ($22 billion).
The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897.