Rescue operations underway on the second consecutive day following an avalanche, near Nathu La pass in Sikkim, Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (Photo: PTI)
GANGTOK: A Sikkim government official Wednesday said it is now "almost certain" that no tourist is left strapped under the snow at 15th Mile, the site of the devastating avalanche and search operations by the Army and the Border Road teams have been called off.
But helpline numbers will remain active for the time being to help tourists get information about their kin, Gangtok district collector Tushar Nikhare told reporters here.
"We are almost certain that no more tourists are trapped under the snow near 15th Mile," Nikhare said.
The Army, NDRF, ITBP, GREF, Sikkim Police and two personnel from Tiranga Mountain Rescue Team equipped with radars searched all possible areas near 15th Mile to find out any tourist lodged under the snow. But nobody was found there during the rescue and search operations that were carried out from 8AM to 3PM before being halted, the Gangtok DC said.
The rescue teams used digging and trenching machines and other modern equipment to find people trapped under the debris at the place, which is a few km short of Nathu La, but none was found, he said.
The road between Nathu La and Gangtok is open but no tourist vehicle will be allowed to ply till permission is granted after taking note of the weather conditions, he said.
The avalanche that took place near the high Himalayan pass between Tibet and India on Tuesday has claimed seven lives and trapped under it an estimated 25-30 people, besides six vehicles, officials said.
Nikhare said that the incident was not an avalanche but a 'snow slide' and it has been clarified by top authorities.
A snow slide is an avalanche of snow, while an avalanche is a large mass of snow, ice, earth, rock or other material down a mountainside or over a precipice.
Describing a snow slide as a "once in a life time incident", he asserted that Sikkim is otherwise is a safe place for tourists and other visitors.
Lessons have been learnt from the 'snow slide' and precautionary measures like signages indicating dangerous areas, no parking zones and instruction about not crossing the limits of visiting areas will be put up at 15th Mile and surrounding areas, the official said.
Meanwhile, the post mortem of all seven retrieved bodies were carried out at the STNM here and five of them been handed over to their next of kin. The bodies of the remaining two persons will be taken by the relatives tomorrow, officials said.
The state government will provide all assistance to the kin of the victims and the injured will be provided treatment free of cost, they added.