|India villagers recount earthquake woes|
CHUNGTHANG: Military helicopters today reached remote villages in northeast India cut off for four days by a strong earthquake which killed at least 110 people across four countries.
Terrified locals reported how their houses were destroyed by boulders careering down the mountainside, flattening walls and crushing people inside when the 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck on Sunday evening.
Landslides and rockfalls have blocked all roads into the north of Sikkim, leaving rescue teams battling to evacuate the injured by air and relief organisers still uncertain about the scale of the destruction.
In Gangtok, the state capital of Sikkim, officials said the toll had risen to 78 by today morning. Another 18 people died in neighbouring Indian states, seven people in Chinese Tibet, six in Nepal and one in Bhutan.
At Chungthang, a village close to the epicentre, Phulmaya Lepcha, 36, recounted how her teenage son was killed when rocks loosened by tremors rolled down the valley, smashing everything in their path.
“Like every day, I was feeding my goat in the shed,” she said. “Suddenly hell broke loose. The ground shook. I was trembling and screaming and within minutes, I lost my son and my house. The rocks killed him. He always said that we lived in paradise.”
Chungthang is the base for thousands of migrants working at engineering projects and the nearby Teesta hydroelectric plant, which lost 18 employees in house collapses and the landslides that buried many roads.
More than 135 buildings and single-storey houses were damaged or destroyed in Chungthang, which is also a popular stopping-off point for trekkers before they head on foot into the high mountains.
“We have pulled out 10 bodies and there are some more lying buried below the debris,” Tashi Chopehl, the local sub-divisional magistrate, informed.
“Many injured have been airlifted and sent to the hospital in Gangtok,” he said, adding the challenge was now to contact even more remote communities near the border with Nepal.
With annual monsoon rains still to finish, the tourist season in Sikkim was due to begin in the coming weeks and only a few overseas visitors were thought to have been caught up in the earthquake.
Army helicopters have started to deliver emergency food supplies and grain to villages that may remain cut off for weeks until overland links are slowly restored.
As well as being blocked by numerous landslides, many roads were buckled and cracked as the eastern Himalayas shook violently in the quake.
“We are scared to enter our house. It has deep cracks and the walls have tilted,” said Sayema Theng, 25, a mother of three. At night, Theng’s family sleep in a community centre and in the day they sit outside their house surrounded by rocks and debris.