Gangtok: A strong earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale shook Northeast India, Nepal and Bangladesh on Sunday evening, killing at least 16 people and causing extensive damage to several buildings.
The earthquake - the biggest in two decades with epicentre at the Sikkim-Nepal border - was also felt across many states in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
While five people died in Sikkim, four were killed in West Bengal and two in Bihar. In Nepal, five people were killed. Over 100 were reported to be injured in quake-hit areas.
The epicentre of the quake - which hit at 6.10 pm - was located at a depth of 10 kilometres at Mangan and Sakyong areas, over 50 km from Gangtok on Sikkim-Nepal border.
"Tremors were felt between 30 seconds to one minute in some parts of Sikkim, including Gangtok," Shailesh Nayak, Secretary in the Ministry of Earth Sciences, said in Delhi.
Sikkim Chief Secretary Karma Gyatso described it as “a massive earthquake”.
Three aftershocks of 5.7, 5.3 and 4.6 magnitude on the Richter scale were also felt in the region within an hour of the first quake.
Immediately after the quake, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and offered him all necessary help.
Five persons were killed in Sikkim - two at Singtham (East), two in Rishi (West) and one in Mangan (North) as the government sought Army`s assistance in reaching help to the affected, Gyatso said.
Three persons were killed in Darjeeling district and one in adjoining Jalpaiuri in West Bengal, while two others – a five-year-old girl in Nalanda and a youth in Darbhanga – lost their lives in Bihar.
At least five people were killed in Nepal, three of them outside the British Embassy in Kathmandu, when a high brick wall collapsed. Dozens were injured as houses crashed across the mountainous country, snapping communication lines.
Relief and rescue
In Sikkim, communication links snapped with mobile towers getting damaged. Gangtok and several other areas plunged into darkness following major power failures.
Heavy rains and darkness hampered relief operations in the night. Landslides caused by the quake and rains blocked several roads in many parts of the state.
Army columns in small teams were deployed in rescue mission across Sikkim. The columns comprised medical teams with first aid, engineer detachments and relief and rescue units.
Many tall buildings shook and developed cracks in Gangtok and Darjeeling and window panes shattered as thousands of people ran out to the streets in panic. Two buildings of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) collapsed in Pegong area though there was no immediate report of any casualty, a senior official said.
Four teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been rushed to Sikkim and five more teams were being sent from Kolkata, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Kumar Seth told reporters after a meeting of top officials in Delhi convened on the direction of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
A team of doctors is also being rushed to Sikkim from Delhi, Seth said after chairing a meeting of Crisis Management Group.
Army units have also been mobilised and field hospitals have been activated in Sikkim, he said. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has also been mobilised for restoring normal traffic on NH-31A which connects Sikkim with rest of the country.
Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force has rushed five cargo planes to the Northeast with relief material and personnel. These include two C-130 J planes and two AN-32 aircraft. An Avro-1 plane was also scheduled to arrive from Delhi with relief material.
Tremors in northern and eastern India
The tremors were also felt in Assam, parts of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.
Reports said few houses collapsed in Bihar’s Katihar and capital Patna.
In Assam, one woman was injured in Dhubri district on Assam-Bengal border, buildings developed cracks in various parts of the state and electric poles fell. Official sources in Guwahati the woman was injured when a wall of her house collapsed.
As buildings shook, people rushed out of their houses and took refuge in open places.
"We saw computers, chairs and tables rattling in our office," said Manu Singh and Binod Singh, who were among those who rushed out in the open in Ranchi, Jharkhand.
In the national capital, the tremor was felt in certain parts -- the second such experience within a fortnight after Delhiites were jolted around midnight on September 7 by an earthquake of 4.3 magnitude.
Delhi`s suburb Gurgaon and some other parts of the National Capital Region experienced very mild tremor.
Power supply was disrupted in parts of northern West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in Kolkata.
Seismologists consider India’s Northeast to be the sixth most earthquake-prone belt in the world.