Seven tourists including a minor girl were killed while 13 others were injured in a major avalanche in Sikkim’s Nathula area on Tuesday, the police said.
The deceased have been identified as Shiva Psd Lamichaney, Ashika Dhakal, Rebya Singh, Bal Singh, Sourav Roy Chaudhary, Pritam Matiy and Muna Shah Shrestra, officials said.
“Among the 7 deceased we have identified three as Nepal nationals, and two each were from Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The Bengal victims will be taken in an ambulance, 2 from Uttar Pradesh will be flown while those from Nepal will be taken by road for which the State Social Welfare department is looking into the logistics of taking mortal remains,” Gangtok District Collector said.
The Collector said that ex-gratia to the victims will be given as per norms for the Indian victims, but for Nepal victims, the decision will be taken by the Home Department.
Among those that were taken to the STNM Hospital, Gangtok DC informed that 13 victims were taken to STNM Hospital, seven have been discharged with minor injuries while six persons are still admitted.
Gangtok Superintendent of Police Tenzing Loden Lepcha while addressing the media at the DC office in Gangtok on Tuesday evening informed, “Currently weather conditions are bad hence rescue operations are on hold. Again in the morning, another rescue operation will be carried out by NDRF from Pakyong station. State Disaster Relief Force was active.”
“We have also activated a helpline number for the help of tourists and their relatives to know if they are trapped. We are trying to find if any more tourists are left, it will go on until we find the last body,” he said.
SP Tenzing Loden asserted the importance of rescue first, highlighting how the helpline has received 10-15 queries since the disaster.
He further informed, “On Tuesday at the check post, there were 500 plus vehicle passes issued till 15th mile, so far all vehicles have returned. All hoteliers, travel agents and taxi drivers have found their tourists. But those coming as individuals instead of groups are tough to be tracked, we are still trying to get in touch with hotels they were staying in”.
As per the second-mile check post information all tourists stranded have been found. But in case of no contact, the Sikkim police are verifying their location, he added.
SP Loden further added, “Snow was considered safe and hence they were having fun despite the warning that they were not to climb the heap of snow. The supposed stream below the snow, the tourists didn’t see it as dangerous.”
Natural disasters can’t predict beforehand, we warn the tourists to also follow the norms and directions. We are considering sending tourists to such tourist spots only after Indian Meteorological Department clears the weather for travel, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his condolence and said, ‘Distressed by the avalanche in Sikkim. Condolences to those who have lost their loved ones. I hope the injured recover soon. Rescue ops are underway and all possible assistance is being provided to those affected.”
On Tuesday, at about 11.30 AM, a massive avalanche hit the 15th Mile on Jawaharlal Nehru road connecting Gangtok with Nathu La.
The Army, State Disaster Management Team, and police were also engaged in search and rescue operations.
The search and rescue operation was halted on Tuesday at 6:00 pm due to inclement weather, the DC notice stated.
Further, the search and rescue operation for the avalanche will again start at 8:00 hours on April 5, 2023, to account for missing tourists, the statement reads.