Rescue operations underway on JNM Road in East Sikkim after an avalanche, Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (PTI)
Kolkata: At least seven tourists died while several others went missing after a havoc avalanche struck them near Nathu La in Sikkim on Tuesday morning. The death toll may rise.
Though the search and rescue operation got underway leading to the evacuation of many tourists initially, it was suspended temporarily after a fresh slide hit the same spot in the evening.
The natural disaster unfolded at around 11.10 am in eastern parts of the mountainous state which saw unprecedented snowfall already in March.
The massive avalanche hit the Gangtok-Nathu La Jawahar Lal Nehru Marg Road near an area called Mile 15. Around five to six vehicles along with 20-30 tourists on the way to Nathu La got buried under the snow.
Troops of the Sukna-based Trishakti Corps, which covers Sikkim, under the Army’s Eastern Command, and a team of the BRO Project Swastik swung into action immediately and launched an all-out rescue mission.
The Trishakti Corps stated: "27 tourists were rescued till 4 pm, including six from the deep valley. They were shifted to nearby medical facilities of the Army. Unfortunately, seven of them succumbed to their injuries."
It added: "Search and rescue mission for the balance persons are underway by the Army, State Disaster Management Team and the police. In addition, 350 stranded tourists and 80 vehicles were rescued after snow clearance from the road."
Six hours after the first wave, another slide took place at the same place at 17.35 pm while it has started snowing, making the rescue operations dangerous. This halted the search and rescue operations, a senior Army officer said. All personnel involved in the humanitarian mission were safe. JNM Road Axis has been closed till snow is cleared.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "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."
Union home minister Amit Shah tweeted in the evening: "My sincerest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in the tragic avalanche in Sikkim. We are closely monitoring the situation and the teams of NDRF will reach the affected area soon. I pray for the speedy recovery of those injured."
Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang-Golay stated on Facebook: "Deeply saddened by the news of tragic avalanche that hit the Gangtok-Nathula JNM Road. My heart goes out to the bereaved family and friends in this hour of grief and I pray that the departed souls rest in eternal peace. Similarly, I also pray for the speedy recovery of those who have been injured and are currently receiving medical treatment."