Remote India villages reached; quake toll hits 104

September 22, 2011 - 2:05 AM
India Earthquake

A women looks at the rubble of her house, damaged in Sunday's 6.9-magnitude earthquake, north of Gangtok, India, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Indian soldiers managed to reach a hydroelectric project in the northeastern Wednesday where many people were killed in a series of landslides triggered by a powerful earthquake. (AP Photo) INDIA OUT

MANGAN, India (AP) — Rescuers on Thursday finally reached villages in India's remote northeast that were cut off by a powerful earthquake that rattled the Himalayan region last weekend, as the death toll in the disaster climbed past 100.

After the magnitude-6.9 quake struck Sunday evening, rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rain and mudslides that blocked roads leading to villages in the remote, mountainous region.

As the weather improved Thursday, with no rain, helicopters ferried relief workers to the inaccessible areas, said R. Sahu, an Indian air force spokesman.

"Two air force helicopters have taken disaster management teams to inaccessible areas for relief work," Sahu said.

Separately, aircraft dropped rice and other food items to nine inaccessible villages with a combined population of nearly 1,000, he said.

Also, workers used heavy machinery and dynamite to blast rocks to clear roads leading to inaccessible villages.

Two injured people from Chungtan, one of the worst-hit villages, were taken by helicopter to a hospital, Sahu said.

Five more bodies were discovered overnight in debris, taking the overall death toll to 104, police said.

The bodies were found in the Mangan area close to the epicenter of the quake, which claimed lives in northeastern India, Tibet and Nepal.

The deaths from the quake were spread across a wide swath of the Himalayan region, with officials reporting 73 dead in the worst-hit state of Sikkim, 12 in West Bengal, six in Bihar, six in the neighboring Nepal and another seven in the Chinese region of Tibet. The toll was expected to rise as rescue workers gained more access to remote villages in the sparsely populated region.

Sikkim's chief minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling, told reporters Wednesday that according to initial estimates, the earthquake had caused losses and damage worth 1 trillion rupees ($22 billion).

Chamling said that nine villages in northern areas were still cut off from the rest of the state.

While troops have been airlifting rescuers and dropping food and supplies to the cutoff areas, word on casualties and damage has been slow to come by.

On Wednesday, 17 people were confirmed killed by landslides in a hydroelectric project in the region, and one worker was missing.

The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897.

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Associated Press writer Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati contributed to this report.