As in any disaster, people have stories of random acts of kindness
With the weather clearing up over the plains and at the lower altitudes, National Highway 31A, connecting Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri and Gangtok opened to traffic on Tuesday even if it was slow crawl and the odd jams at some points. Although the landslides had been cleared, it was a tight squeeze for two-way traffic, with lorries, earthmovers and Army trucks trying to make their way up the road.
According to a source at Bagdogra Airport, the clear weather had allowed relief teams, Army/Air Force helicopters and Sikkim government choppers to carry supplies to the worst-hit regions in north and west Sikkim. More aircraft were expected to bring relief on Tuesday, he said.
Meanwhile, teams in Gangtok, including civil defence volunteers, and members of the Gangtok Task Force and NGOs have been aiding in rescue operations since the earthquake on Sunday.
Rotary “shelter kits” are expected to arrive from Kolkata over the next few days.
According to a source, relief teams that have arrived in Gangtok, where there the quake damage has been less seveere, were urged to head north with their supplies by top administration officials.
Rising to the occasion
In the immediate aftermath of the quake, which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, and amid the panic-inducing aftershocks, are stories of kindness of near strangers. If Bharat Kumar Agarwal of the cloth store Samrat on M.G. Marg refused to take money from those using his shop phone to make and receive calls to and from family across the country for nearly an hour, a provision store across the road remained open as employees rummaged through a pile of fallen goods to find mineral water, biscuits and torches (free gift included).
A paan shop — lit by candlelight, cheery Nepali music on a guitar in the background — and a Subway outlet, were among those that served people till around 3 a.m. Monday. And with many choosing to spend the night on the benches along the road, or in tents outside their homes, these had their takers.
“If there is anything we should learn from this, it is that we must try to help people,” said Yogesh Verma, District Governor 12-13, District 3240. His decision to stop his car on the way to Gangtok from Siliguri to help people apparently fleeing their homes alerted him to the quake and ensured that he narrowly missed a landslide. A 3.5-hr journey might have become 14 hrs, but he got shelter, “hot Maggi, tea, and breakfast” at a monastery off the blocked NH 13A highway, near Kalimpong, thanks to another act of kindness — a stranger he'd offered a ride to happened to know someone there.
A few aftershocks later, both real and rumoured, the city picked up the pieces. There was a distinct sense of relief that it wasn't as bad as it could have been, while for others it was all about sang-froid.