Three days of torrential rains in the Himalayan foothills brought devastating mudslides to Darjeeling killing at least 38 and sweeping away critical roads and bridges.
Twenty-three remain missing and more than 500 tea workers were displaced last week. Several lost their homes and belongings in late night sea of mud and debris. Roads and communication links are gradually being restored but some tourists were stranded.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee traveled to the site and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolence to the families of the victims.
A Darjeeling tea garden
Hardest hit were those living on the road to Mirik via Dudhia where at least 20 died. A local resident told the Times of India “the victims were killed in their sleep. No one had a chance to escape.” Deaths were reported in Takling Limbugaon, Groundgaon and Toklanggaon with seven lost in Mirik and seven in Kalimpong, according to police.
The Times reported the Rakti Bridge, connecting Mirik with Siliguri, collapsed near Simulbari and a portion of NH-55 was washed away cutting off Kurseong and Siliguri from Darjeeling. Traffic to the plains (Siliguri) is being diverted via Bagora. Landslides in Rohini and Pankhabari — the two alternative routes to Siliguri — paralyzed vehicular movement to and from the Hills for several hours. A mudslide at Malli on NH 10 affected traffic movement to Sikkim from Darjeeling.
“The long cloudy, rainy, foggy, hard days full of drizzle and moisture-laden air resulted in very high moisture content in the green leaf which led to very small amount of second flush teas as well as high fuel cost and inefficient work in the fields,” writes Rajiv Lochan, whose Lochan Tea gardens in the region were spared serious harm.
“It rains every year but this year it was rarest of rare wet year – not too much rain but too much wet. You know what I mean when you feel wet to the core and simply cannot move your body,” said Lochan.
Kurseong received 7.3 inches (185.30 mm) rain in the 24 hours leading up to the slides. During that period Kalimpong received 5.4 inches (137 mm), Siliguri 3.6 inches (92.40 mm) and Darjeeling 1.6 inches (42.30 mm).
Sources: Times of India