Winding up a road trip from Arunachal Pradesh, I was lucky to traverse the Siliguri Gangtok NH10 on the evening of 3 October, having travelled on the way down via Lava on 24 September. Waking up on 4 October to a mayhem on the banks of the Teesta, visuals and horror stories of Singtam Rangpo and Melli were beyond comprehension.
It took us a good 4-5 hours to connect to my in-laws, who live in Singtam, albeit a bit away from the Teesta on higher grounds. So we knew they were safe. On the other hand, my father was at our family home near Namchi, safe but the connecting bridges were all washed away, so he was unable to travel back. Today, he should be able to travel back home, hopefully.
Gangtok is not directly affected by the 4 October heavy rains that caused a lake on the Lhonak glacier in Sikkim to breach its shores, causing a Glacial Lake Outburst Flooding downstream the valley.
But indirectly, you can see the impact on my city. There is already a shortage of fuel in Gangtok. Many petrol pumps were closed by the afternoon of 5 October, and the few dispensing rationed fuels have serpentine queues, causing traffic snarls in the town.
There was a government circular issued on 4 October, which clearly stated that not more than twenty (20) litres of HSD (High Speed Diesel) and fifteen(15) litres of MS (Motor Spirit) should be given per vehicle per day by the fuel outlets.
The capital gets most of its material and fuel from Siliguri. The distance between Siliguri and Gangtok is about 100-odd kilometres, typically taking 3-4 hours. However, due to the flash floods, the route via Singtam-Rangpo-Melli-Teesta is damaged, so the distance of the alternative route is around 200 kilometres, which takes approximately 9-10 hours by road. As a result, the supply of fuel, vegetables and fruits are all affected that come to Gangtok. The government has been proactively trying to prevent hoarding, blackmarketing and overcharging by rationing fuel and issuing advisories.
"To prevent panic buying, the Gangtok Municipal Corporation fixed vegetable rates on 5 October."
The government has mobilised doctors and teams from Singtam District Hospital and other PHC in the affected region. Both Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial (STNM), Multispeciality Hospital (Govt) and Central Referral Hospital (Pvt Teaching Medical College), the two most prominent hospitals in the state, are geared up for any eventuality.
Tremendous rescue missions by State Disaster Teams, National Disaster Team and Police and Army have managed to save many lives from the aftermath. Most low-lying areas in Rangpo-Singtam-Melli are covered under many metres of sand and sludge.
Early warning by the disaster team and police in the wee hours of the night by patrolling, miking and sirens helped people to move to a safer place. We have heard people being begged by the police to vacate their houses in low-lying areas in the wee hours before the calamity. The sparse population of Sikkim and proactive warning by the authorities probably kept the death toll to a minimum, but the number of displaced and the road and infrastructure damage and loss of property are immense.
Thankfully, today, the 6th is a bright sunny day, and we doctors in the hospital are mobilising workforce and materials to aid the relief camps. We are hoping that the situation soon becomes better.
(Dr Mohonish is Professor & Head ENT in SMIMS and the State Secy of Indian Medical Association Sikkim, Views expressed are personal.)