|17 dead in landslides at plant hit by India quake|
MANGAN: Indian soldiers scrambled Wednesday to reach a hydroelectric project in northeastern India where at least 17 people were killed and more were missing in a series of landslide triggered by a powerful earthquake.
The 6.9 magnitude earthquake Sunday evening killed at least 91 people across northeast India, Tibet and Nepal. Rescue efforts have been hampered by heavy rain and mudslides that blocked the roads leading to villages in the remote, mountainous region.
Several of those slides hit the area around the hydroelectric plant being built along the Teesta, a glacier fed river in the Himalayas in the northern part of the Indian state of Sikkim.
Prakash Wakankar, an official with Teesta Urja Co., which is building the plant, said nine workers were killed when the van they were riding was buried during the quake by boulders dislodged from a hillside. Another eight workers were killed in a separate landslide.
Other company officials said more workers were feared missing in another landslide that buried the workers' quarters. At least one said as many as 40 workers were unaccounted for.
"We are trying to ascertain the number of people who are missing, but it is difficult because some local workers have returned home after the quake," said P.P. Baby, a senior executive with the company.
Soldiers in helicopters were on their way to the area while other rescue workers were using heavy machinery to try to clear the mud and rocks blocking the roads to the plant, local official Janim Lepcha said.
Baby said the quake did not damage the plant, part of which is almost complete.
"The dam and the power plant structures are completely safe," he said.
The death toll from the quake was spread across a wide swath of the Himalayan region, with officials reporting 60 dead in Sikkim, 12 in West Bengal, six in Bihar, six in the neighboring Nepal and another seven in the Chinese region of Tibet. The toll was expected to rise as rescue workers gained access to remote villages in the sparsely populated region.
Troops have been airlifting rescuers and dropping food and supplies to the cut-off areas, but word on casualties and damage has been slow to come by.
Nearly 60 tourists, stranded in the popular mountain resort of Lachung, clambered onto army helicopters Wednesday and were ferried to the nearest town of Mangan.
"We've been waiting to be rescued," Kiran Palany, a Mumbai businessman, told the AP from Mangan. "It's been a harrowing three days."
With roads out of Lachung blocked by mudslides, Palany said he, his wife and their four companions had no choice but to wait for help to reach them.
"It was scary. The place is rife with rumors about more quakes and the local people are spending the night outdoors. We had to stay put. There was no way of getting out of Lachung," Palany said.
Lachung is around 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Gangtok, the Sikkim state capital.
In Gangtok, thousands of people rattled by aftershocks and fears that their homes could collapse instead sheltered on the grounds of a university and at a sports stadium.
By late Tuesday, a few villagers with badly injured relatives had begun to arrive at Gangtok's main hospital from more remote areas.
Thurba Singh Sherpa said he 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 region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897.