September 19, 2011 2:21:21 am
A powerful earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale rocked Sikkim and other parts of north and east India today evening,leaving at least 13 dead and scores injured,and causing extensive damage.
The quake,the biggest in India since the 2004 quake that triggered a devastating tsunami,also killed five people in Nepal. The epicentre was at Mangan and Sakyong areas,over 60 km from Gangtok near the Sikkim-Nepal border,and located about 10 km below the surface. The quake struck around 6.10 pm and lasted about 12 to 15 seconds.
While seven people were reported killed and over 50 injured in Sikkim,four died in West Bengal and two in Bihar. Late-night reports confirmed death of at least two Army personnel in Sikkim,while two to three Army vehicles including one bus with Army personnel are missing.
At least five people were killed in Nepal,three of them outside the British Embassy in Kathmandu,when a brick wall collapsed.
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Tremors were also felt in Assam,Meghalaya,Tripura,Jharkhand,Uttar Pradesh,Rajasthan,Chandigarh and Delhi. According to information posted on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website,the epicentre was 68 km northwest of Gangtok,272 km east of Kathmandu and 572 km north of Kolkata. The IMD said it fell under the category of a moderate earthquake.
Three aftershocks of 5.7,5.3 and 4.6 magnitude on the Richter Scale,recorded within 90 minutes of the quake,also triggered massive landslides,leading to National Highway 31,the only road link from mainland to Sikkim,caving in at four places,making it difficult for rescue personnel to move in.
The aftershock activity is likely to continue for some time more, the IMD said.
While two people died at Singtham in Sikkims East district,two were killed in Rishi in West district and one at Mangan in North district,Chief Secretary Karma Gyatso told PTI,calling it a massive earthquake. One woman was seriously injured in Gangtok near a cinema hall when stones from a wall fell on her.
Two buildings of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP),including the headquarters of its 11 Batallion,collapsed in Pegong in north Sikkim,though there were no reports of casualties. At least 14 foreign nationals holidaying in Pengong were rescued by the ITBP,Director General Ranjit Sinha said.
Telephone lines went dead except for a few landline numbers while mobile networks got jammed in Gangtok,which plunged into darkness. Some people ran out of their homes and buildings while some others jumped out of their windows, a Gangtok resident,Karma Pradhan,recounted.
Though no major damage has been reported in Gangtok so far,there has been news of some major damage in Rangpo,where the Sikkim Manipal University is located, said an official from Gangtok.
It was a huge tremor which did not seem to come to an end. We panicked and ran outdoors as the power supply went off. There has been a drizzle,but we are scared of sleeping inside tonight, said Sarika,a resident of Gangtok.
I have lived my entire life in Sikkim but had never experienced such tremors, said a retired government official.
Most of the buildings in Gangtok developed major cracks and people were seen moving to the Paljor stadium and other open areas. The situation was aggravated as it has been raining continuously for the past three days.
In neighbouring West Bengal,four deaths were reported three in Darjeeling district and one in Jalpaiguri district,Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh said. Of the deaths in Darjeeling district,one each occurred in Kalimpong,Kurseong and Siliguri sub-divisions,Ghosh said.
One person was killed when a mud house collapsed in Milan tea garden in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. The unidentified deceased was around 20 years old. Power supply and telephone communications also snapped in Jalpaiguri.
The second death in West Bengal happened at Khalpar area in Siliguri,where hundreds of vehicles are now stranded. The elderly person died of a heart attack while 30 are admitted in various hospitals.
People got injured as they jumped from rooftop,verandahs etc. There was panic as tremors hit twice. Two houses crumbled and there were damages to several others. Electricity lines have snapped and mobile towers are not working, Gangotri Dutta,chairperson of the Siliguri municipality,told The Indian Express. Darjeeling remained out of bounds because of landslides.
In Bihar,an eight-year-old girl died after her mud house caved in in Nalanda while a 16-year-old died after he fell down on the road,hitting his head,when running for safety after feeling the tremors.
Reports came in of houses caving,tilting and developing cracks in Gaya,Darbhanga,Saharsa,Munger and Patna. Electricity went off at some places,while mobile phones stayed jammed for about half an hour after the quake.
In Assam,one woman was injured in Dhubri district,buildings developed cracks in various parts of the state and electric poles fell. Short-circuits were reported and mobile and land telephone services were disrupted across the state.
In the national capital,the tremor was felt in certain parts the second such experience within a fortnight after Delhiites were jolted around midnight on September 7. Tremors were also felt in Jaipur and nearby areas of Rajasthan,Uttar Pradesh and Haryana,as well as some parts of Madhya Pradesh.
In Delhi,the Crisis Management Group headed by the Cabinet Secretary held an emergency meeting and dispatched about 500 personnel of the National Disaster Relief Force to help in rescue operations,which will begin early tomorrow. Ten Army Engineer columns have been dispatched from Siliguri and Binnaguri.
Three aircraft of the Indian Air Force carrying personnel and relief material left from Delhi and one was scheduled to fly from Kolkata to Bagdogra.
The Prime Minister himself is monitoring the quake, the Cabinet Secretary said.
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