It was 6.10 in the evening when I suddenly felt the tremor. Living here, we are used to frequent tremors and our first reaction is to run to an open safe place. But this wasn't the usual earthquake. It felt like a destructive child was frantically shaking her dolls' house and we were the helpless dolls inside getting pushed in all directions. We could hear the sound of things hitting the floor. I bruised myself almost falling but managed to stop myself.

In this 30-second ordeal, all of us in the house managed to run out. The power was gone. It was pitch dark. I ran back inside to my parents because at that point I decided if this was the end, I wanted to be with them. We could hear people shouting, children screaming, sounds of distress I never again want to relive. My mother realised my sister and brother-in-law were not yet home, and we started calling them only to find the networks were down. Luckily it was BSNL which emerged the hero and got us connected. Soon, Facebook became a source of contact that kept us updated and provided some kind of relief, because though the networks were restored we were unable to make calls.

We were in terrible shock. Never before had I felt so helpless before the enormity of nature. We settled ourselves at what we thought was a safe spot when we experienced another shock, and then another. At 11.30 we decided to go to bed, an emergency bag with basic essentials by our sides. But sleep eluded us.

This is one of the worst quakes Sikkim has seen in living memory. The main secretariat is badly affected and a few buildings are reported to have collapsed. Most houses have cracks. Over 18 deaths have been reported, with news of more trickling in. Two buses with Army personnel are reported missing in North Sikkim. Conditions in Mangan, headquarters of North district, the epicentre of the quake, seem to be the worst, but we know very little. All we are doing is praying for the safety of everyone.

(The writer is Assistant Registrar, Sikkim University, and a resident of central Gangtok.)