| Firemen and volunteers hunt for the body in the garbage dump. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Feb. 26: A huge morass of debris slithered downhill from the dumping chute of the hill town yesterday, burying alive a 10-year-old girl. The body of Sushmita Sarki is yet to be found.
A woman who was also caught in the avalanche of trash was, however, pulled out alive. The hill town under Darjeeling Municipality does not have any solid waste management programme and garbage is dumped on a hill side between Mangalpuri and Sister Nivedita Gram.
The incident took place around 4 pm yesterday afternoon and though Sashi Tamang (50) of Sister Nivedita Gram, was pulled out alive immediately, Sushmita’s fate was not known till this morning.
“She had left around 12.30 in the afternoon but when she did not come back home yesterday, I thought she had gone to some relative’s place. But in the morning when I contacted the relatives, I realised that nobody knows about her whereabouts,” said Phulmaya Sarki, Sushmita’s grandmother. The girl had been staying with Phulmaya at Mangalpuri Bustee as her father had died a long time ago and her mother is in Gangtok
Eyewitnesses said they had seen a girl carrying a white sack standing below the debris a few minutes before the slide. “She was wearing a black track suit,” said Anita Chhetri, who was a few metres downhill when the debris descended. Chhetri, however, managed to scramble to safety when she saw it coming down.
Tamang said she was about 200 feet below the dumping chute when the garbage suddenly slid down. “I do not know who was around me. I was buried till my hip and people came to my rescue immediately and pulled me out,” said Tamang, who had gone to collect wood from below the dumping chute.
Residents claimed that this is the third time that people have been caught in garbage slides. “Luckily no one was buried alive then,” a local said. About 17 tonnes of waste is dumped on the hill side everyday. When the weight becomes too much, the debris slide down to a jhora 700 feet below.
People living in areas like Sister Nivedita Gram often cross the garbage dump to reach the forests and the burial ground below. But since the dump is on a higher elevation, the garbage often rolls down.
It is not yet known if Susmita had gone there to collect scrap, though locals said she was seen with a gunny bag.
Phulmaya was inconsolable. “I wanted to keep her in a hostel from Monday and she, too, was willing to go,” she said. The hostel is a centre for street children run by a local NGO.