Kolkata/Gangtok: Helicopter services will aid stranded locals, tourists and other medical and official emergencies between Bagdogra airport and Burtuk Helipad in Gangtok. The otherwise regular service of one flight from Bagdogra and Gangtok has been doubled for emergencies.
The NH 10, which connects Sikkim and North Bengal, has been marred by 16 landslides following incessant rainfall. In South Sikkim district alone, 25 houses were partially damaged along with one school in Yangang. In East Sikkim, Rongli, Pakyong syb-division and areas around the NH 10 witnessed many major and minor slides. In Lingtam, a house was completely washed away.
The Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation has termed the situation as a ‘natural calamity’, and decided to double the helicopter services with no increase in the travel cost.
Speaking with EastMojo, STDC Operations Assistant General Manager Tejpal Pradhan shared, “The price rate of the service has been fixed at Rs 3,500 per head, with services beginning from 0930 hours in Gangtok and concluding at 1510 from Bagdogra which will be the last service to Gangtok. In these hours, eight helicopter services will be carried out by one chopper in place in Burtuk, Gangtok. Each flight will take 35 minutes to reach either Gangtok or Bagdogra.”
Pradhan highlighted how a thorough discussion was carried out by the STDC, following, “multiple queries coming in from locals for medical or other official emergencies to commute outside of the state.”
“We have also been receiving information from our counterparts at Bagdogra as well as from the locals wanting to take the helicopter service from Bagdogra, realising that road connectivity may be cut off for days. That has been the main reason of STDC with CEO Rajendra Chettri initiating the doubling of services,” shared Pradhan.
Joyrides in and around Sikkim, ideally in Gangtok, have been suspended until the situation across NH 10 improves. “We want to devote our choppers more for emergency services than joy rides for the next few days,” STDC added.
Grim situation across Sikkim, North Bengal
Over the past few days, the region has witnessed multiple landslides in hill districts of West Bengal and mountainous Sikkim, damaging bridges, submerging highways and throwing normal life off the track, officials of the two adjoining states said.
National highway 10, the arterial road link between West Bengal and Sikkim was blocked by massive landslides, while swollen rivers, including the Teesta, ravaged villages along its banks.
Heavy rain also set off a landslide on the highway at 29th mile in West Bengal, around 60 km from Sikkim’s Rangpo border, disrupting vehicular movement. Another landslide occurred at Pani House in Gangtok. Excavators and other heavy machinery have been deployed to clear the road of the debris.
Pillars of a steel bridge at Rangpo, the gateway to Sikkim, got damaged due to heavy flow of water in the Teesta river which has been in spate over the past few days, prompting the authorities to allow only light vehicles, officials said.
Rain pounded the hill districts of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal as also adjoining Jalpaiguri from where incidents of landslides and damage to bridges were reported.
Video footage showed turgid rivers overflowing their banks and submerging highways in Kalimpong.
The Meteorological department issued a ‘red’ alert for Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Alipurduar, forecasting “extremely heavy rain at one or two places” in these districts till Thursday morning.
Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar are likely to receive heavy to very heavy rain during the period, it said.
Road connectivity in several places of Kalimpong district, linking Kalimpong town with hamlets such as Pedong, Lava and Algara, was snapped owing to landslides, officials said.
Water from the overflowing Teesta river submerged national highway 10 that connects Siliguri with Sikkim capital Gangtok at Teesta Bazar, disrupting vehicular movement, they said.
A bridge on the Balason river at Matigara on the outskirts of Siliguri in Darjeeling district also got damaged.
Siliguri Police Commissioner Gaurav Sharma said bigger vehicles have been diverted to another route owing to the damage to the bridge, while only motorcyclists and pedestrians are being allowed to use it. “We are urging people to make plans for long travel to reach their destinations owing to the diversion,” he told reporters.
Hundreds of tourists, who thronged the hills during Durga Puja, are facing difficulty reaching railway stations and Bagdogra airport to return home, owing to the incessant rain and landslides.
Several low-lying areas in Jalpaiguri district have been flooded owing to rise in the water levels of Teesta and Jaldhaka rivers. An unspecified number of people from these areas were being moved to safe places, officials said.
Darjeeling received 233.8 mm rainfall, the highest in the state in 24 hours till 8.30 am on Wednesday, followed by Kalimpong (199 mm), Jalpaiguri (151 mm) and Cooch Behar (60.9 mm).
Water levels of Torsa and some other rivers in the region are rising fast owing to copious rain.
The meteorological department said inclement weather conditions will prevail in the sub-Himalayan districts till Thursday morning.
The weather in West Bengal’s southern districts, which received heavy rain since October 17 owing to a low-pressure system, improved considerably on Wednesday, though the weatherman said thunderstorms with lightning at one or two places are likely during the day.
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