DISASTER WATCH: 800 tourists evacuated in Sikkim – anyone enquire how the roads were built, ‘blasting’ young & fragile mountains and loosening rock structure causing untold further environmental degradation – ‘cost of rapid progress’ stupid ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, June 1: Around 800 tourists returned here safely today, a night after they were stranded by multiple landslides on North Sikkim Highway and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg. (not anywhere else ?!!)
Heavy rainfall in North Sikkim had triggered at a dozen slides around 8pm yesterday between Kabi and Phengla. Around 100 vehicles bringing tourists to Gangtok from Lachung and Lachen were trapped in the slides.
Similarly, three vehicles ferrying 29 tourists from Chhangu Lake in East Sikkim were also stranded when a stretch of Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, which is being widened, caved in near 13th Mile. Two slides blocked the road at 17th Mile.
A team of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim led by its president Paljor Lachungpa attempted to reach the tourists but could not do much. “We reached Phengla last night but the evacuation was difficult because of darkness and falling stones,” said Lachungpa.
In a joint operation by the government, tour operators and local people, the stranded tourists were provided with snacks, tea and medicines at night and in the morning before they were brought back to Gangtok.
“The rescue operations got over by afternoon and no tourist was injured”, said Gangtok subdivisional police officer R.K. Sundas at Phengla.
The visitors appreciated the efforts of the stakeholders of Sikkim Tourism. “It was a unique experience as they (stakeholders) were there to help us. Some of us slept in the vehicle while others were provided with accommodations at local huts or in army barracks,” said Partha Ghosh, a tourist from Calcutta returning from North Sikkim.
The tourists who were stranded at 13th Mile on Jawaharlal Nehru Marg that connects Gangtok with Nathu-la border while returning from Chhangu were also brought here safely this morning.
Director of the Border Roads Organisation’s Project Swastik (works) that maintains both the highways C.P. Sharma said traffic on North Sikkim Highway would be restored by the next three-four days while the Gangtok-Nathu-la road would be repaired by this evening or by tomorrow at the latest.
Water supply hit
Yesterday’s heavy rainfall also disrupted water supply to Gangtok from the Rathey Chu water source. Three six-inch and one 14-inch pipes were damaged between Rathey Chu and the water treatment plant at Selep tank, officials said.
“Temporary restoration may take another four to five days while the permanent repair may take almost two months,” said PHE junior engineer K.B. Karki.
The department has engaged more than 300 workers for the restoration. Only 50 to 70 per cent of the normal water supply will be released for Gangtok until the temporary restoration is over.
“Water will be released only during the evenings for the next two days,” said PHE secretary P.S. Basnet.