The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Swirl of water brings hill crashing down

July 8: Rushes of rainwater hurtling down the wet hills sliced off huge chunks of earth that came crashing on at least 15 people, burying all of them alive in the worst landslide disaster in recent memory in Darjeeling.

Two others were swept away in a landslip in another spot and eight more were missing as rains pounded Bengal’s hill subdivisions, Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, and neighbouring Sikkim without pause for 24 hours, cutting off all these areas from the rest of the country.

Huge tides of water are swirling into the plains of north Bengal gathering ferocity from releases from a Teesta barrage. Already, 50,000 people have been affected.

All 17 deaths in landslides occurred in Mirik block of Kurseong, 15 dying in the Singbulee and Gayabarai tea estate areas. The other two died at Dudhia.

Darjeeling district magistrate Hridyesh Mohan said: “The worst-hit areas were the Gayabari and Singbulee tea estates.” Here, landslides occurred in four spots in close proximity of each other. Of the 17 bodies retrieved from the debris, 15 have been identified with the two who died in Dudhia still unaccounted for.

All of Darjeeling and Sikkim have been cut off with floodwater washing away vital approach bridges to the hills. The brimming, turbulent Rohini twisted the 50-year-old steel bridge at Khaprail Bazaar, halting traffic on the Khaprail-Kurseong road.

Movement between Siliguri and Kurseong along Pankabari Road stopped after a cave-in on Panchnoi bridge near Sukna and a breach on a steel bridge at the Khaprail army cantonment.

National Highway 55, popularly known as Hill Cart Road, too, was blocked by landslides at Thindaria, Kalamati and Rongtong.

Breaches on NH 31A have left Sikkim unapproachable. Mohan said: “About 42 metres of the national highway near Teesta Bazaar have become unusable. A portion of the Nandi river bridge at Sevoke Bazaar, too, has caved in, stalling traffic to Sikkim and Kalimpong.”

It would take at least three days to restore vehicular movement between the hills and the plains. Both Pankabari Road and Hill Cart Road will take a couple of days to be repaired. The army has been asked to help mend the bridges at Khaprail cantonment and Panchnoi.

In neighbouring Jalpaiguri district, the receptacle of the rainwater streaming down the hills, the administration has already issued a red alert with over 50,000 people caught in the wake of the onrush, combined with the ceaseless downpour.

Some 177,000 cubic centimetres of water have been released from the Teesta barrage at Gajaldoba, flooding the downstream areas of the Teesta and its tributaries. The administration has restricted the entry of people on the spurs or noses of the embankment. Five such spurs were washed away, partly by the raging Teesta today.

Although irrigation department officials rushed to the spot, the situation seemed to be beyond control. Along with a restriction on movement on the spurs, located by the side of Teesta Bazaar town, about 40 km from Siliguri, police have been deployed to enforce the prohibition.

The divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri said: “The release of water from Teesta barrage has caused the flooding. The situation is not at all good.”

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