Sikkim flash floods death toll mounts to 18; searches on for 98 missing people

Sikkim flash floods death toll mounts to 18; searches on for 98 missing people

The toll in the flash flood in Sikkim mounted to 18 on Thursday as Army and NDRF teams worked their way through slushy earth and fast flowing water in the Teesta river basin and downstream north Bengal for the second day in search of those who were swept away and are still missing, officials said.

Ninety eight people, including 22 army personnel, remained missing after a cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim in the early hours of Wednesday triggered the flash flood, Chief Secretary V.B. Pathak said.

In a statement, the government of neighbouring West Bengal said four of the 18 bodies were identified as ‘jawans’.

Twenty-six people have suffered injuries and were undergoing treatment at various hospitals across Sikkim.

So far, 2,011 people have been rescued, while the calamity has affected 22,034 people, the Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority (SSDMA) said in a bulletin.

Mr. Pathak said that he was informed by officials of the Army’s 27th Mountain Division that the tourists who were stranded in Lachen, Lachung and adjoining regions in North Sikkim are safe.

According to estimates, over 3,000 tourists, including foreigners, are stuck in various parts of Sikkim.

Mr. Pathak said that the Army activated their telecommunication facility and got many tourists to speak to their worried family members.

The evacuation of the stranded tourists was a priority and it has been decided to airlift them up to Mangan, from where they will be brought to Sikkim by road.

“If the weather holds good, the stranded tourists in Lachen and Lachung will be evacuated from tomorrow,” the chief secretary said.

The Indian Air Force and Army helicopters were ready to fly to Lachen, Lachung and Chungthang on Thursday, but could not do so due to inclement weather, he said.

NDRF platoons are also ready in North Sikkim to start the evacuation process for the local people.

Referring to the situation in Singtam town, hit badly by swelling in the Teesta river, Pathak said that the restoration of water and electricity infrastructure has been completed in Singtam and IBM, the industrial belt nearby.

Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang visited Singtam, one of the worst affected areas, and took stock of the situation.

“Our dedicated teams are working day and night to address the immediate concerns and challenges posed by this calamity. I urge the administration, local authorities, all organisations, and individuals to join hands in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. Together, we can make a significant difference in providing relief to those affected and rebuilding our communities,” he said.

The Chief Minister wrote to the PM, and sought necessary support, especially for areas that needed immediate intervention, officials said.

The flood destroyed 11 bridges in the state, of which eight bridges were washed away in Mangan district alone. Two bridges were destroyed in Namchi and one in Gangtok. Water pipelines, sewage lines and 277 houses, both kuchcha and concrete, have been destroyed in the four affected districts.

The search for the 22 missing soldiers was continuing with a focus on the downstream areas as the fast-flowing river is likely to have carried them to the lower reaches towards northern West Bengal, officials said.

In Kolkata, the West Bengal government said in a statement, “Eighteen bodies have been recovered. Out of which six bodies – four jawans and two civilians – have been identified. The process of identification of the rest is being carried out.”

In North Sikkim, some choppers flew to Lachen carrying essential supplies like rice, pulse, salt and milk for the local people.

The chief secretary urged people to not believe in rumours related to flash floods.

Earlier, Mr. Pathak chaired a series of meetings with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Wholesale Retailers, Pharmacy Association, IOC Representatives, LPG dealers and distributors, petrol pump owners, and Taxi Drivers Association to take stock of availability of essential commodities, including fuel.

The Chief Secretary directed the National Highways & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) to open closed routes for small and heavy vehicles through Lava and Reshi check posts at the earliest.

An NHIDCL official assured that the route will be cleared by Friday morning.

The transport secretary was also directed to issue an order for route diversion for small and heavy vehicles after ensuring clearance of the route.

To keep the prices of essential commodities unchanged, the state government has decided not to levy charges on private vehicles carrying such items through Rangpo, Reshi and Melli Check Posts.

The Chief Secretary appealed to all the associations not to hike the rates of essential commodities and also ensure that no hoarding of LPG, petrol and essential commodities takes place in Sikkim.

The flash flood in the Teesta River, triggered by the cloudburst in Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim, caused an accumulation of a huge quantity of water, which turned towards Chungthang dam destroying the power infrastructure before moving downstream in spate, flooding towns and villages.

About 10,000 people have been affected by the calamity in the Mangan district, while 6,895 people were affected in Pakyong, 2,579 in Namchi and 2,570 people in Gangtok.

The SSDMA advised people to stay away from the Teesta as the water level was rising due to incessant rains in the upper reaches.

Meanwhile, the West Bengal government statement said that 11 people from Sangsey gram panchayat in Kalimpong district are missing.

Four SDRF teams will continue to be deployed in Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong and Cooch Behar districts in the northern part of the state.

Of the stranded tourists, approximately 2,000 were from West Bengal and 450 of them are still stuck in remote places in Lachen and North Sikkim, the statement said adding that many have also started returning.

In the southern part of the state, discharge of water from DVC barrages at Maithon and Panchet and reservoirs of Mukutmanipur reduced resulting in the receding of water levels in the rivers flowing through Howrah and Hooghly districts.

The flood has affected normal life in the districts of Bankura, Howrah, Hooghly, Paschim Medinipur and Purulia.

At the moment, 9,215 people have taken shelter in 191 relief camps in the northern and southern districts of Bengal.

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