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"Hamile Teesta nadi ko esto nisthur rup kaile dekheko thiyena (We had never seen Teesta river's angry form up until now)," Meena Tamang, a resident of Singtam in Sikkim, told The Quint in Nepali. Her voice was trembling as she spoke over phone on Thursday, 5 October.
Meena had to flee her home with just her clothes on her back on 4 October, at midnight, when floodwaters started gushing into her two-storey house, situated on the banks of Teesta in Singtam.
"The police began alerting citizens by blowing whistles at around 1 am. We initially did not pay much heed to it, as we thought it was a routine affair. But half hour later, the cops were at our doorstep, frantically pleading with us to evacuate since the water level of the Teesta river was rising," she said.
"Just then, we heard an ominous sound and saw a bridge being washed away and the water rapidly advancing towards our house. We didn't have time to collect any of our belongings, so we fled. I put my life's entire savings into building the house brick by brick, and now the river has engulfed my home."Meena Tamang
Meena fled along with her son, daughter-in-law, and two toddler grandchildren.
Her story is the story of many other families in Sikkim that witnessed a flash flood in the Teesta basin after a cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in north Sikkim, according to officials.
Up until 12 pm on 5 October, at least 14 people lost their lives, and 102 others, including 22 army personnel, are missing due to the disaster.
'Saw My Pregnant Wife and Baby Being Washed Away'
Nishant Gupta, a driver and a resident of Rangpo West in Pakyong district of Sikkim, lost his entire family – his pregnant wife and a four-year-old son – to the disaster.
"The police began alerting us at around 2 am to evacuate. I planned to drive up my family to higher reaches till the floodwaters would subside. I helped my wife and son to get to the car and even started the engine. I quickly rushed back home to fetch for my father who is old but by the time I got back I saw waters gushing into the car and slowly surrounding us," he narrated to The Quint.
"My father and I climbed up a tree to seek shelter. Within minutes, the car with my wife and son was washed away right in front of my eyes. I wanted to save them, but there was no way I could do so. The last thing I could hear was my son screaming, 'Baba molai bachaunu (Please save me, father). It will haunt me till my last breath," he told The Quint.
Gupta said his wife's delivery was due in just 10 days.
"We were so excited to welcome a new member into the family. It would be the perfect gift for dasain (Dusshera). But life had other plans," he added.
'Could Save My Brother But Not His Wife or Kid'
Similarly, Brijkumar Sahu, a 32-year-old daily wage earner and a resident of Melli, a town on the West Bengal and Sikkim border, lost his family to the gushing waters.
"I was fast asleep when, around 3 am, I felt my bed getting wet. I got up and saw that water was gushing into my house. I immediately bolted upstairs to help my family members out. I could get my brother and elderly father out. But my sister-in-law, who was pregnant, and my 5-year-old nephew were stuck in another part of the house. None of us could reach it since the water was flowing in so fast," he told The Quint.
'Rescue Efforts Proving to Be Difficult'
Arun Subba, a resident of Singtam and a local volunteer involved in the rescue efforts in town, underlined the challenges rescuing.
"From the building where I used to stay, we have been able to rescue seven people. The main problem we are facing in our rescue efforts is that the buildings are covered in 10-15 feet of slit and mud. Many people are trapped on the upper floors. But then in many cases, there is no way we can reach them since the access route to these buildings or the staircases have been washed off," he told The Quint.
Officials at the disaster management control room in Gangtok said roads and communication lines in Chungthang have been snapped, and they were in the dark about the situation.
"We have absolutely no communication with Chungthang where the flash flood washed away a dam. The town has also been affected. People were evacuated soon after the water level in the Teesta started rising in the early hours of Wednesday. The casualties have not been many. The town has been hit, though," a second official told Hindustan Times.
Another official said three National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) companies flown to Bagdogra in neighboring West Bengal remained stranded as choppers could not take off for Sikkim.
"As soon as the weather clears, one company will be flown to the worst-hit Chungthang in the Mangan district. The remaining two companies would be stationed at Gangtok and Pakyong,” he noted.