Vehicles headed for Siliguri wait for the debris to be cleared. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha
Siliguri, June 17: A landslide triggered by night-long heavy rain blocked the only road to Sikkim for more than eight hours today, leading to long queues of vehicles on both sides of the debris.
A part of the road was cleared by 1pm.
Residents of Sevoke, 20km from here, said the hillside came tumbling down on NH31A that also connects Kalimpong around 4am. Although no houses were damaged, the debris covering about 30 metres of the highway — from Coronation Bridge to the Sevoke police outpost — stopped traffic till the highway was partly cleared.
This is the first major landslide in the hills after Cyclone Aila struck on May 26. At that time there were 40 landslides, which killed 28 people.
It has been raining in the area since last evening, although the monsoon is yet to arrive in the sub-Himalayan region.
“The heavy rain triggered the disaster. We realised that the highway was blocked only in the morning. But apart from blockade on the highway and disruption in vehicular movement, there has been no major damage,” said Ganesh Roy, an officer of the outpost.
“The debris covered about 30 metres, making it impossible for any vehicle to ply the road. Initially we stopped vehicles on either side of the landslide spot. Later with the help of the local people and the PWD workers, the debris was removed by 1pm,” Roy said.
Rajib Dey, a professor of Sikkim Manipal University who was heading for his workplace at Majhitar, about 100km from here, was forced to stay put at Sevoke Bazar till the afternoon. “On any other day, I would have reached Gangtok by 11.30am,” said Dey.
Although the tourist season is on the wane, some visitors were stranded too. “We had started for Gangtok but found the road blocked when we crossed Sevoke Bazaar,” said Arindam Mukherjee from New Alipore in Calcutta. “We had walked up to the landslide site to see the damage. By then, work had started to remove the debris from the road and the local people had assured us that it would be cleared in a few hours.”
Instead of returning to Siliguri, Mukherjee started for Sikkim late in the afternoon.
Ravikant Sharma, another tourist from Orissa’s Sambalpur on way to Lava near Kalimpong, however, decided to return to Siliguri. “When we went to enquire, we were told that it would take at least four-five hours to clear the road,” Sharma said around 11am. “We decided not to take any risk and stay in Siliguri instead.”
Subir Sarkar, the in-charge of North Bengal University Weather Observation Centre, however, said the monsoon was yet to arrive in the region. “A low pressure on the Bay of Bengal caused rainfall in the sub-Himalayan region yesterday. The weather is likely to remain unchanged in the next 24-hours,” Sarkar said.