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Sikkim Flash Flood: Death Toll Rises To 34 Including 10 Army Jawans; IAF Rescues 400 Tourists On Monday

The Indian Air Force has initiated rescue and relief operations in the Himalayan state, commencing with the airlift of the initial group of stranded tourists from Lachen to Mangan in North Sikkim.

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Flood in Sikkim
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Officials reported on Monday that they have retrieved a total of 34 bodies, including those of 10 army jawans, from the mud and debris caused by the flash flood in the Teesta River that wreaked havoc on Sikkim. The search is ongoing for the more than 105 individuals who remain unaccounted for.

The Indian Air Force team which initiated rescue and relief operations in the Himalayan state, commencing with the airlift of the initial group of stranded tourists from Lachen to Mangan in North Sikkim has been able to rescue 400 tourists including 13 from Bangladesh on Monday.

Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang held a review meeting with Chief Secretary VB Pathak, Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande, who has reached Gangtok, and other officials for coordinated relief and rescue operations along with armed forces. 

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Sikkim chief secretary V B Pathak sought the Centre's assistance on Monday, which saw evacuation of stranded tourists begin in North district in Army choppers after the weather cleared up for the first time since the flash flood.

The tourists were evacuated from Lachen and Lachung of the North district but the work is being impeded by the lack of telecommunication connectivity, he said.

Pathak told union cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba during a virtual meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) that  BSNL, which is working in coordination with the Army, has promised to lay optical fibre cables in the area by Monday evening. It has planned to bring 5 VSAT units and technicians in helicopters to Lachen, Lachung, Chungthang, Chatten, and Theng areas to restore telecommunication.

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Account of deaths and disappearances due to floods

Apart from the reported 34 fatalities in Sikkim, the administration of Jalpaiguri district in the adjoining northern region of West Bengal has stated that 40 bodies have been recovered downstream in the Teesta river. Nevertheless, officials have cautioned that there might be some overlap in the death toll reported by the two states.

Within Sikkim, Pakyong district has recorded the highest number of casualties, with 22 fatalities, including 10 army personnel. This is followed by six in Gangtok, four in Mangan, and two in Namchi.

Six days after a cloudburst over Lhonak lake in Mangan district triggered a surge in the Teesta river, leading to flooding in several towns along the river basin across four districts in the Himalayan state, a total of 105 individuals remain missing. According to a bulletin from the Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority, among the missing, 63 are from Pakyong, 20 from Gangtok, 16 from Mangan, and six from Namchi.

The flash flood has caused damage to 3,432 houses, both makeshift and permanent structures, and 5,327 individuals have been successfully rescued and evacuated. In addition, 14 bridges have either been washed away or submerged, severely impacting road connectivity throughout the state.

A total of 6,505 people have been left homeless by the flash flood and are currently housed in 26 relief camps across the four districts. The number of individuals affected by the flash flood stands at 85,870.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Tamang convened a high-level meeting at his official residence to review the ongoing relief and rescue operations. Present at the meeting were Chief Secretary VB Pathak, Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Pande, and other officials. The meeting's purpose was to ensure the swift rescue of stranded individuals while coordinating closely with the defense forces, as stated by an official.

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Indian Air Force begins rescue work

The Indian Air Force started humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations in Sikkim, and rescued the first batch of stranded tourists from Lachen to Mangan aboard a helicopter, a Defence official said.

The MI-17 and Chinook helicopters of the IAF conducted 10 sorties, moving 354 tourists out of the disaster-hit areas, they said. These tourists were brought to Pakyong airport, they added.

The Army shifted 45 tourists from Lachen to Mangan on helicopters, officials said.

These tourists were stranded in Lachen and Lachung after a cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in Mangan district on Wednesday caused a flash flood in Teesta river, devastating several towns and villages across the Himalayan state, they said.

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The operation to rescue tourists stranded in the affected areas will resume again on Tuesday, officials said.

It also carried emergency service personnel and essential supplies to Lachen. The exact number of tourists rescued in the first batch is not immediately known but the MI-17 helicopter used in the operation has a capacity to transport 25-30 people.
    
"The IAF commenced its humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations from Air Force Station Bagdogra for the flood victims of Sikkim on the Air Force Day," the Defence official said.

The air force started carrying Garud commandos, communication equipment, fuel, medicines, search and rescue equipment by Chinook and MI 17 V5 helicopters to the state from Sunday, he said. Stating that the Eastern Air Command is coordinating the humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) operations, the official said that the IAF is fully geared up to reach out to the victims of the flash floods that left the small Himalayan state in disarray.

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"The helicopters are kept ready to transport the stranded tourists and local residents to safer locations as soon as the weather conditions improve," the Defence official said.

What is the Met Department saying?

The Met Department on Monday forecast light to moderate rain in many places accompanied by thunderstorms and lightning in sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim over the next five days.

Meanwhile, the Jalpaiguri district administration in West Bengal has said they have so far recovered 40 bodies from the downstream of the Teesta River. Officials said 10 bodies have so far been identified.

Since bodies are still being found from the slush and debris left behind by Teesta in both states, the exact toll will be clear in the next few days after collating the details, officials said.

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