New Delhi: The Centre has constituted an inter-Ministerial team to visit Sikkim to take stock of the damage following Sunday’s devastating earthquake amid fresh reports that 400 foreign tourists were stranded in worst-hit North Sikkim.

Meanwhile with the recovery of 20 more bodies in quake hit Sikkim since last night, the toll mounted to 73 on Wednesday amidst fears that the casualty could go up significantly as the rescue party were yet to reach about 15 major villages in worst hit North district.

Home Minister P Chidambaram will also visit Sikkim on Thursday to review the rescue and relief operations being undertaken in the Himalayan state.

"The Centre has constituted an inter-Ministerial team to visit the affected places in the state and give its recommendations for assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund," a Home Ministry official said.

He said about 400 foreigners are reported to be stranded in North Sikkim.

2700 and 550 people have been provided shelter into Army camps and ITBP camp (Pengong) respectively. A total of 5500 Army personnel have been deployed for rescue and relief operation.

60 villages have been physically covered by the team of Army Jawans in their search and rescue operations.

Two teams of 30 Army Jawans each with RMOs are located in Mangan and Chungthan. 30 sorties have been done by helicopters provided by the Ministry of Defence for airdropping and reconnaissance. Food packets have been airdropped in the northern part of the North district at Myang, the official said.

He said a total of 700 houses have reportedly collapsed. About 500 houses have been reported to be substantially damaged. In other areas also, extensive damage to houses has
been reported.

An aerial survey was carried out by officers of the state government and National Disaster Response Force yesterday to identify and list the affected villages.

The road between Mangan and Chungthan, where 16 landslides have been reported, has been opened upto 12 km further north of Mangan.

The Border Roads Organization and Army Engineers are working for restoration of different roads.

Sikkim has 15 sub-stations of 66 kilowatt, out of which 6 were down. Three have been restored. All the transmission lines and sub-stations of power grid have been restored.

Power supply is normal except in the northern part of North district. Landline and microwave links are operational.

Sufficient stock of essential commodities such as foodgrains, petroleum products and LPG are available in the state, the official said.

The Home Ministry has dispatched 1000 blankets and 400 extendable tents and 200 arctic tents to the affected areas, he said.

Rescuers crawl through debris

With 20 more bodies recovered in quake hit Sikkim since last night, the toll mounted to 73 on Wednesday amidst fears that the casualty could go up significantly as the rescue party were yet to reach about 15 major villages in worst hit North district.

Official sources said members of the rescue party found six bodies in East Sikkim and 14 in North as they managed to enter Dzongu from Mangan, the headquarter of North Sikkim where the 6.8 magnitude tremor of Sunday was epicentred.

North district alone accounted for 50 deaths, while 18 people died in East district, four in West and one in South district. Over 300 people were injured, the sources said.

The sources said the rescue party which include personnel of the army, NDRF and local people would have to clear at least 30 to 40 major roads blocks created by debris of landslides to reach about 10-15 major villages.

"We have no idea of the condition in villages like Sakyong-Pentong, Bey which were in forested areas beyond Dzongu," an official said.

The villages in Sikkim are scattered and there is only one major highway connecting Mangan to Dzongu. The rescue operation was also hampered by intermittent rains, the sources said.

The rescuers also met people who walked for two days through hilly terrain and forests to reach Mangan from Dzongu. Some of the people of Mangan expressed unhappiness with the visiting media persons for worrying only about tourists and ignoring locals.

One of them, W Bhutia, said, "You (media) people are only interested about what happened to tourists. They receive the best of services from hotels. Nobody bothers to take note
of what is happening to poor people like us."

Meanwhile, army sources said 8-10 km stretch at Tung, which is 16 km off Mangan, had caved in impeding rescue operators from reaching worst-hit Chungthang.

Sikkim Director General of Police Jasbir Singh said Border Road Organisation personnel were deployed to clear the highway.

District Collectors have been asked to reach Mangan, Lachen, Lachung and Chungthan, rendered inaccessible by the landslides, immediately by air as more bodies are feared to be
trapped in under quake debris.

An official release in Gangtok said roads to Namchi and Jorethang in South Sikkim have also been reinstated. Geyzing in West Sikkim is now accessible by road.

The other arterial roads in West and South Sikkim have also been partially opened and light and emergency vehicles are reported to be plying, it said.

JPN/Agencies