Tourists rescued by the Army from remote earthquake-hit areas of Sikkim

“The hills around us shook with a deafening sound. Before we could realise what had happened, huge rocks came tumbling down, missing our vehicle by whiskers. The car shook violently. The driver asked us to get down immediately. I virtually jumped out of the vehicle and ran ahead holding my little son. It was such a horrifying scene that we could not think of anything but to keep running as if a monster was chasing us. Finally we reached an Army camp and we felt like we’d got a new lease of life. I am happy now that I have returned from the jaws of death,” said Sushmita Mishra, a young woman from Bhubaneswar who told The Hindu about the ordeal of an 11-member tourists’ group including two children during the September 18 earthquake in Sikkim.

Ms. Mishra was among the 32 tourists who were rescued by the Army and airlifted from remote Lachung, one of the earthquake-hit areas, and brought to the Mangan helipad in four helicopter sorties on Wednesday. Mangan is 67km from Sikkim’s capital city, Gangtok.

The trauma of being caught in the midst of an earthquake-triggered landslip was also writ large on the face of Sasmita Nandan, another member of the group from Orissa. “We walked over the debris for about five kilometers. There was total darkness all around. All of us were so terrified that we were afraid even to speak. The moment we reached the Army camp! We heaved a sigh of relief. The soldiers at the camp took such good care that it reduced much of our tension and helped us to gradually overcome the trauma. We could speak to our relatives on Tuesday night, who worried about us as there was no communication since the earthquake had occurred.”

For Shyamali Dutta, a tourist from Kolkata, the trauma was still too much to bear and she broke down at the helipad as she started describing the terrifying first moments of the high intensity earthquake which occurred moments after her family checked in a hotel at Lachung.

“We had just entered our hotel rooms. Suddenly, everything in the room started shaking so violently followed by a deafening sound. I felt as if the ceiling and walls were going to collapse on me. We ran out of the room. The building cracked and broken concrete pieces were falling all over,” Ms. Dutta said.

The tourists group of six elders and Ms. Dutta’s two-year-old grandson passed a sleepless night in the car in which they had arrived. The next day, they were rescued by the Army and taken to a school and provided food and shelter. A large number of local residents also spent the night in the school-turned relief camp.

Ms. Dutta and her husband Salil Dutta,a retired engineer, their long cherished dream of enjoying the beauty of the snow clad Youngthang, their next tourist destination after Nathu La, Gangtok and Changu lake, was shattered by the earthquake.

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