Earthquake in India

BANGALORE, India (CNS) — An Indian bishop expressed concern that landslides would block relief efforts in the mountainous border region of India and Nepal that suffered a magnitude 6.9 earthquake.

“We still do not have a complete picture of the tragedy. Though the death toll is low, the devastation is very high,” Bishop Stephen Lepcha of Darjeeling told Catholic News Service by telephone Sept. 20. He said Sept. 21 that “25 percent of the common-people houses are fully damaged and 60 percent of their houses are partially damaged.”

Darjeeling Diocese includes the Indian state of Sikkim, where the quake was centered. The Himalayan state borders Bhutan, China and Nepal.

More than 110 people were killed and hundreds were injured in the Sept. 18 quake that the bishop called the strongest he ever experienced.

When the earthquake struck, Bishop Lepcha was on a pastoral visit to a church center at Kurseong, an hour’s drive from Darjeeling, with Canadian Jesuit Father Joseph M. Abraham, 86.

Bishop Lepcha said he remained with the priest and started praying “Lord have mercy on us” until other priests rushed in looking for them after the 40-second earthquake.

The biggest worry now, he said, is “the widespread cracks on … hillsides and roads” due to the earthquake.

“This is likely to lead to landslides when rainwater goes in. It will displace many more families,” the bishop said.

The Indian government has flown in more than 5,000 military workers and earth movers to repair roads and restore electricity and communication links to the remote areas.

Bishop Lepcha said while the century-old Immaculate Conception Cathedral and other archdiocesan buildings developed cracks, Holy Cross Primary School in Tadong and the remote convent of Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny at Gitdubling suffered serious damage.

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