Chief Minister Mamata claims 14 people from the State died
There was widespread confusion over the number of people killed in West Bengal in Sunday's earthquake. Four districts of the State were affected, with the death toll standing at 12 as on Tuesday.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said totally 14 people from the State were killed, most of whom were working at a hydel project in North Sikkim — the Teesta Urja Ltd. project (TUL). According to figures sent by the Sikkim government, of the 60 people who were killed in its state, eight were from West Bengal, including five who were working at the TUL site. While 10 died when boulders fell on their vehicle, two were buried under landslides at the entry to the site's tunnel. Five died when landslides crushed their dwelling units.
Officials at the TUL told The Hindu that as per their records, of the 28 persons employed at the site, 17 had died — four of whom were from West Bengal — and one was missing.
Ms. Banerjee said it was unfortunate that the death toll was still rising. “We asked for another helicopter for rescuing stranded people but we could not get it. We have set up helplines.”
Sources at the office of the State Disaster Management Secretary I.B. Pandey said that the Sikkim government had sent a list of 60 persons who had died — three permanent residents of the State, and five TUL employees.
Quoting the TUL MD, government officials said three dead bodies had been brought by helicopter to Siliguri from the project sites in North Sikkim's Mangan district and were being handed over to the relatives of the deceased. Two more dead bodies of residents of West Bengal (of TUL) have just been brought to Mangan for post mortem.
Mr. Pandey earlier said that 10,000 food packets were now lying in Bagdogra Airport, waiting to be dispatched, as inclement weather was affecting relief operations. Two Army helicopters were making rounds to trace out any survivors and bodies of victims.
A TUL official said all casualties and injuries were due to landslides triggered by the quake and its aftershocks and not due to the collapse of the tunnel. They claimed that the project tunnel was now actually being used for transportation of men and materials.
A joint venture of the Sikkim government and Athena Energy Ventures Pvt. Ltd., the TUL is a ‘special-purpose vehicle' for implementing the 1,200-MW Teesta III hydel project, which is the northern-most project of the river. The project site and its construction works are spread between Mangan and Chungthang, which were also areas worst-affected by the quake.
The company claimed that it had drafted two helicopters to rescue people, including local villagers, and had commenced operations within two hours of the incident, despite incessant rains and massive landslides.