Monday, August 27, 2007

Rain brings hill down on 31-A national highway

- After the landslide, the long walk

Sevoke, Aug. 26: A massive landslide struck near Sevoke on NH 31A last night, blocking the highway. Triggered by a spate of heavy rain, the mountainside with rocks, mud and uprooted trees came tumbling down at 8.30pm.
Officials of the Sevoke police station said it has been the most devastative slide in recent times. Even after 10 blasts (for breaking boulders) and round-the-clock removal of debris by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and Hindustan Construction Company, things have not improved much.
The accumulated debris at Hatisuray—between Coronation Bridge and Kalijhora, 26km from Siliguri — has cut off the main road link to Kalimpong and Gangtok.
While around 1,000 passengers have been stranded on either side of the site, a few hundreds walked the 500m affected stretch to board vehicles from the other side.
More than 100 trucks carrying foodgrain, vegetables and building material to Sikkim were lined up on the highway. The drivers said the delay in supply might affect the markets of the hill state.
“At least another 48 hours or so will be required to clear the debris and to make the road free for traffic movement,” said an official of BRO that maintains NH 31A.
A truck driver, who witnessed the incident, said: “It was around 8.30pm. I was near Hatisuray when suddenly I heard a deafening sound and pushed the brakes hard.” Som Kumar Chhetri was then on his way to Gangtok, carrying cement on his truck. “Within minutes, rocks, boulders and mud came down onto the road. A huge chunk of debris that also had uprooted trees and swept away the parapets along the road. Had I not pressed the brakes on time, I wonder what would have happened.”
Among those who crossed the landslide stretch on foot with their luggage are Christine How and her daughter Janie from Gangtok. But the duo were at a loss since there were no vehicles on the Siliguri side. “We don’t know whether we can reach Bagdogra by 3pm for our flight to Delhi,” Christine said. Though it takes merely an hour to reach the airport, the women had to walk another 2km to the Coronation Bridge before they would get a taxi and it was past 1pm.
Prankrishna Das, the officer-in-charge of the Sevoke police outpost, who had informed the BRO and Hindustan Construction Company, said: “I have not seen such a massive slide in recent times. At least 10 blasts have been carried out but even then, the situation remains more or less the same.”
At present, buses and other vehicles are plying the Siliguri-Damdim-Gorubathan-Lava-Algarah-Kalimpong and Siliguri-Ghoom-Mungpoo-Kalimpong routes. “It will take four to six hours to reach Kalimpong and a couple of hours more to reach Gangtok through the alternative routes,” said Darjeeling police chief Rajesh Subarno.
Generally it takes two hours to get to Kalimpong by NH 31A and another two-and-a-half hours more to reach Gangtok.