Death Toll At 81 For Quake In India, Nepal, China
GANGTOK, India September 20, 2011, 10:47 am ET
GANGTOK, India (AP) — Thousands of terrified survivors of a Himalayan earthquake that killed 81 people and shook parts of India, Nepal and China crowded Tuesday into shelters and relatives' homes or stayed out in the open for fear of aftershocks.
Soldiers used dynamite and earthmovers to clear landslides on highways through the steep valleys linking the worst-hit northeastern Indian state of Sikkim to the rest of India. They managed to clear a path to Mangan, the town closest to the epicenter of Sunday's 6.9-magnitude quake, but many other communities remained cut off and authorities fear the death toll could rise once rescuers reach them.
Indian army helicopters ferried rescuers and dropped food and supplies to still-inaccessible villages in Sikkim, a sparsely populated and almost entirely mountainous region that was an independent protectorate before becoming an Indian state in 1975.
Residents of the state, which borders Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Chinese region of Tibet, have been spooked by at least five aftershocks since Sunday, with the strongest a magnitude 5.3.
Residents of Mangan spent a second day in the open, too panicky to stay in their badly damaged homes, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A 300-year-old Buddhist monastery was severely damaged but the monks escaped unhurt, head monk Pema Dorjee said.
"We had just finished evening prayers when we were totally shaken by the earthquake. It's a miracle that none of us were injured," he said by telephone.
Military helicopters made dozens of trips to drop food to residents and airlift the seriously injured to hospitals.
Dawa Lendup Lepcha, 25, a university student in Gangtok, Sikkim's capital, said that even though the room he rents was not badly damaged, he was too nervous to stay there alone and moved in with a cousin.
"Even now we feel scared. If a car makes a loud sound or there is some other sudden noise I feel very scared," he said.
Thousands of others moved out of their homes in Gangtok and neighboring villages and took shelter in the open grounds of a university building and a soccer stadium. Many were sleeping outside, huddling under blankets to ward off the cold. Nighttime temperatures have been about 17 degrees Celsius (62 Fahrenheit).
By late Tuesday a few villagers with badly injured relatives had begun to arrive at Gangtok's main hospital.
Thurba Singh Sherpa walked for nine hours carrying his 6-year-old son, who was injured when a large boulder fell on the jeep he was traveling in.
Two other children died on the spot and two others, more critically injured, were airlifted by helicopters, Sherpa said.
The quake killed at least 50 people in Sikkim and caused extensive damage to homes and buildings, said the state's top official, Karma Gyatso.
Another 12 people were killed in West Bengal and six others in Bihar, Indian Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters. The earthquake also killed six people in Nepal and seven in Tibet.
Singh said rescue efforts were being hampered by heavy rain and landslides which had cut off large swaths of Sikkim.
Lepcha said he had only managed to speak with his family in northern Sikkim twice since Sunday's earthquake and while his relatives were safe, he said there were few details because the phone connections were very erratic.
The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897.
Associated Press writer Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati contributed to this report.
Command Center at Lhasa Air Port