Seven tourists were killed in a massive avalanche that hit East Sikkim's Nathu La area on Tuesday morning, burying their vehicles under the snow, officials said.
The avalanche hit the arterial Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, which connects state capital Gangtok to Nathu La at the China border, around 11.30 am, trapping five-six vehicles with around 30 people under the snow, the Indian Army said in a statement.
Seven bodies were brought out of the snow and 23 people were rescued alive, including six tourists from a deep valley, a state government official said, quoting reports from the Army. Those injured were admitted to different hospitals in Gangtok, around 55 km away, he said.
Among those dead are a woman and a child, he added.
The search operation was called off in the evening due to inclement weather, another official said.
Condoling the deaths, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he hopes the injured recover soon. “Distressed by the avalanche in Sikkim. Condolences to those who have lost their loved ones. I hope the injured recover soon. Rescue ops are underway and all possible assistance is being provided to those affected,” Modi said in a tweet by his office.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the Centre was closely monitoring the situation. “My sincerest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in the tragic avalanche in Sikkim. We are closely monitoring the situation and the teams of NDRF will reach the affected area soon. I pray for the speedy recovery of those injured,” he tweeted.
Nathu La, situated at 14,450 feet above sea level, is one of the three open trading border posts between India and China. It is a major tourist destination, and is a part of the centuries-old silk route. Several permits are required to visit the area.
The tourists were not permitted to travel beyond Milestone 13 due to inclement weather, but they forced the tour operators and the drivers to take them to the area — between milestones 13 and 17 — where the avalanche struck, a police officer said.
Some 350 people in 80 vehicles, stranded on the road because of the snow, were brought back to Gangtok after the snow was cleared in the afternoon, officials said.
“My heart goes out to the bereaved family and friends in this hour of grief and I pray that the departed souls rest in eternal peace,” said chief minister Prem Singh Tamang .
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)