A day after multiple landslides in three sub-divisions of Darjeeling district claimed 38 lives, besides washing away highways and damaging homes, a fresh landslide was reported at Gayabari — 56 km from Darjeeling — on Thursday.
The latest landslide cut off the road link between Darjeeling and Mirik, which alone had accounted for 21 deaths in Wednesday’s landslides, an official of the state disaster management department said.
The landslides in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong sub-divisions had caused extensive damage to NH-10 and NH-55 — cutting off vital road links to the region. Efforts were on to clear the roads to facilitate the return of the tourists to the plains.
A total of 33 bodies have been retrieved so far from underneath the debris. According to official sources, at least 10 persons were still missing in different parts of the hills affected by the landslides.
The village of Tingling in Mirik resembled a devastated site with hutments razed to the grounds and washed away by the cascading flow of heavy downpour and mud and slush.
National Disaster Response Team, civil defence personnel and local volunteers have begun rescue work in the affected areas. Teams from the Sashastra Seema Bal and the National Disaster Management Authority have also been pressed into service.
On Thursday, the Army too has joined rescue and relief operations. An Army official said two task forces — comprising four teams each — have been deployed in North Bengal since Wednesday evening.
“Each team comprises nearly 60 soldiers, including medics, engineers and signallers… The teams have been deployed in Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Darjeeling districts. The teams are carrying flood relief stores, including boats and life jackets,” he added.
Officials in Darjeeling district said the rescue and relief operations were seriously impeded as road links at many places have snapped. The NDRF team, which has reached Siliguri, could not approach the hill settlements as the roads were cut off at many places. They tried to make it on foot, but carrying earth moving implements was difficult.
For the time being, rescue teams were largely looking for survivors and missing persons. Unless and until the bodies are retrieved, the victims’ families will not be able to claim compensation announced by the central and state governments and also by Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.
On Thursday as well, the Darjeeling hills were lashed by intermittent heavy downpour. Darjeeling still continued to be cut off from Siliguri as landslides at Switejhora had snapped the road link and mounds of debris had piled up blocking traffic movement.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who left for Mirik early in the morning, had to abandon her plans of visiting Tingling. The roads leading to Tingling were all washed away by rivulets, which were in spate. However, after much effort, Mamata managed to reach Mirik after taking a detour.
She later tweeted: “Visited the spot where landslide was worst. Met families of victims and those affected in the area. Handed over more cheques to families. Distributed relief and visited community centres where affected families are.”
“I started early this morning by road to reach the spot, which was affected most by landslide. A road journey of normally one hour is taking six hours because of rubble caused by landslide… Three villages have been particularly affected…,” she added.
“Three community kitchens are open. Met more people affected there. The chief secretary, home secretary, DG (Police) also visited,” Mamata added.
While the state government had announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of the deceased, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced aid worth Rs 2 lakh each to the families of the victims and deputed Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju to take stock of the situation.
A central team, headed by Rijiju, had visited the landslide-hit areas in Kurseong on Wednesday and took stock of the rescue and relief operations.