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世界新聞 - 印度

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Himalayan quake rescuers face challenges

喜馬拉雅山地震PHINGLA, India: Rescue teams backed by army engineers using explosives tried to force their way Tuesday to the remote epicentre of a powerful Himalayan earthquake that killed at least 83 people in India, Nepal and Tibet.

Before the grim search for more victims can even begin, the main challenge after Sunday's 6.9-magnitude quake is to reach the isolated, mountainous impact zone on the border between India's northeastern Sikkim state and Nepal.

Convoys of vehicles carrying rescue workers, medical teams and emergency supplies left the Sikkim capital Gangtok at daybreak Tuesday.

But progress was tortuously slow over the narrow, badly damaged roads more often frequented by groups of adventurous tourists heading for Himalayan trekking trails.

After covering just a short section of the 60-kilometre (40-mile) route to the worst-affected districts of Mangan and Sangthan, the convoys came to a complete halt near the town of Phingla, where the path was blocked by a huge rockfall.

As army engineers drilled holes for explosives to try and blow apart the largest boulders, rescuers could only wait in frustration along with distraught locals trying to get through to relatives -- unsure whether they were alive or dead.

"I've been here for six hours, waiting for the army to clear the road," said 37-year-old Pema Doma, who has heard nothing from her parents or 16-year-old son in Mangan since the quake hit.

"I'd walk if they would let me," she said. "The anxiety is killing me. What if he's screaming for me? What if he's calling for me and I can't even hear him?"

Those who did attempt walking around the rockfall were stopped by soldiers.

"I know many shortcuts to reach Mangan but the army says it's not safe," said 62-year-old P. Sherpa, whose son is a student at the North Sikkim Academy, a private school in Mangan.

"So all we can do is sit here and stare at the rocks."

One army official told AFP it could take up to 48 hours to clear the entire stretch of road to the quake epicentre.

But on a positive note, a break in the monsoon weather allowed a resumption of helicopter flights which had been grounded most of Monday by heavy rains and low cloud.

Air force officials said food packages and small medical teams with doctors and paramedics had been air-dropped into Mangan and Sangthan.

The death toll from building collapses and landslides in Sikkim stood at 50, but Indian Home Secretary R.K. Singh warned the number could rise as emergency relief workers reached far-flung villages.

Officials said around 300 people had been admitted to hospitals across the state.

More than 5,000 army troops were mobilised to help clear roads and assist with the relief operation.

The Press Trust of India said 26 tourists, including 15 trekkers, had been rescued and taken to army encampments for their own safety.

Around a million people visit Sikkim every year and an estimated 60 per cent of the state's tiny population of 500,000 rely on tourism for their livelihood.

"Business will be severely affected," said state tourism official Sam Ten.

Hundreds of Gangtok residents spent a second night out in the open, too frightened to sleep in homes badly damaged by the quake.

Many saw out the night in the city's football stadium, slinging plastic sheets over the goalposts or sleeping on the terraces.

"The stadium is our kitchen and bedroom for the night. We're honestly just too scared to consider anything else," said 32-year-old Amrita Laqandri.

In Nepal, eight people were killed and hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged in the east of the country, where rescuers faced the same problems as their Indian counterparts with rains and mudslides blocking the only highway.

Eighteen other people died in the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, while China's official Xinhua news agency said seven people had been killed in southern Tibet, near the border with Sikkim.

source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1154316/1/.html




 
   

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