Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sikkim Earthquake – A Tragedy

On Sunday September 18 2011 at around 18:31 hrs disaster struck Sikkim and nearby areas as a destructive earthquake of the magnitude of 6.8 Richter scale shook the state. The epicenter of the earthquake was 19.8 kms beneath the earth’s surface at Mangan (in green letters in map) approximately 68 kms from the capital Gangtok at the heart of Sikkim. The earthquake was so powerful that the tremors were felt 1500 kms away here at New Delhi.

Sikkim (courtesy Wikipedia)

As a result houses collapsed, landslides occurred and all contacts to Sikkim were snapped. The National Highway 31-A was blocked by landslides at 16 places. Roads to North Sikkim, from Lachung to Lachen and to West Sikkim was blocked. At the time of writing this post the number of people affected and the numbers of casualties were still going up. Because of it being a border state the mobile phone access is limited. It is my personal experiences that once you enter North Sikkim there are no mobile signals. Towns of Rangpo, Singtam,  Namchi, Mangan e.t.c. were badly affected. As the roads to west and North Sikkim are still blocked the extent of damages in towns like Lachung, Lachen, Yumthang, Thangu e.t.c.  would only be known in some time. 

Clearing a Landslide

The biggest challenges which the National Disaster Relief Force teams will face is to get to the affected areas as for one they would not know where to go to provide relief as because of limited connectivity the information coming from the towns and villages will be scarce. The second problem the relief teams would face would be to how to get to these places as the approach roads are narrow and will be blocked by landslides and moreover there are no airports in Sikkim(nearest airport is at Bagdogra 228 kms away). This would slow down the response time and delay relief material from reaching the people (As latest reports came relief personnel were airdropped to Lachen, Lachung e.t.c. and in certain places relief material was air dropped). The third biggest challenges to be faced by Disaster Relief teams are the rains. According to news reports it started to rain heavily after the earthquake to compound the matters. It is my personal experience that when it rains in Sikkim... It truly rains... And moreover the clouds hang really low resulting in foggy weather. Due to the intensity of rains in mountainous areas you cannot differentiate between rains and cloudbursts.

Road to North Sikkim (Landslides can easily block such crucial roads and hamper relief efforts)

The Role of Army and the Indo Tibetan Border Police will be extremely crucial in providing relief as they are well versed with the terrain and the local people. A calibrated response from the Army, ITBP and Nation Disaster Relief Force teams would be required to help the people in the time of need. According to the latest reports the Army has asked its personnel in the high – altitude camps to help people in high areas like Thangu (14000 ft), Yumesongdong e.t.c.

All said I will praying a silent prayer and be hoping for the best for the wonderful, hospitable and simple  people of Sikkim and the nearby areas of Darjeeling district, West Sikkim, Bihar, West Bengal, Nepal e.t.c. I want to express my condolences to the affected people and pray for the speedy recovery of them. I strongly hope that my guide 'Sonam' and all the people with whom I interacted with, during my trip to Sikkim are safe and sound.    

The people of Sikkim are extremely hospitable and welcoming. They never make you feel insecure. It is now our responsibility to assist our countrymen in their time of need.
Om Mani Padme Hum



Touching post,I hope too that all the wonderful people you met during your trip are safe and sound.Everyone from Sikkim and affected areas will be in my thoughts,much love to them.