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At least 19 killed as 6.9 quake rocks India, Nepal
by Staff Writers
Guwahati, India (AFP) Sept 18, 2011

A strong 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit northeastern India on Sunday, killing at least 19 people, including three caught in a wall collapse at the British embassy in neighbouring Nepal.

The quake was felt across a wide region after it struck the small, landlocked Himalayan state of Sikkim -- which borders Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet -- at about 6:10 pm (1240 GMT), according to the US Geological Survey.

Its epicentre was just over 60 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of the Sikkim state capital Gangtok, at a relatively shallow depth of 19.7 kilometres.

At least 60 people were injured in and around Gangtok by mudslides, falling debris and collapsing buildings, Sikkim Chief Secretary Karma Gyatso told AFP, while the town was plunged into darkness by a power cut.

"There is no electricity. Everybody is out on the road," Gangtok resident C.K. Dahal told the CNN-IBN television news channel.

"We all ran out our houses, some even jumped out of their windows. You can see some buildings that have developed cracks," he added.

Tremors were felt in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Indian cities of Guwahati and Kolkata, as well as 1,000 kilometres away in the Indian capital New Delhi.

In Nepal, police said three people were killed, including a motorcyclist and his eight-year-old daughter, when a wall collapsed at the British Embassy compound in the capital Kathmandu, 270 kilometres west of the epicentre.

"Another two died in a separate incident in eastern Nepal," national police spokesman Binod Singh told AFP.

A budget debate in Nepal's parliament was stalled for 15 minutes while lawmakers leapt to their feet and fled the chamber as the entire building shook.

Telephone landlines to Sikkim, India's least populous state, were knocked out and mobile networks were swamped, making communication with the affected area difficult.

The quake was followed by two strong aftershocks, one with a magnitude of 6.1, and the death toll may rise as reports arrive from remote communities.

Sikkim Chief Secretary Gyatso said that five people had been killed and 60 hurt in and around Gangtok.

"We have reports of dozens of collapsed houses, and roads to many towns have been blocked by landslides," Gyatso said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said that police rescued 15 foreign tourists in the north of Sikkim, a popular destination for trekkers, but it did not give their nationalities.

Nine other people died in India, including one reportedly killed in a stampede by panicked residents in Bihar state and four who were buried when a house fell down near Darjeeling.

As many as 1,000 prisoners at Jalpaiguri prison in West Bengal state were escorted from their cells under guard after the building was damaged by the quake, officials reported.

Manish Sharma, a doctor attending a conference in Gangtok, told the NDTV news channel that guests in his hotel had all run for the doors as soon as the first tremors were felt.

"I am standing in front of the legislative assembly and I can see one of the outer buildings... the upper side is in two parts," Sharma said.

"I can see light coming out of that particular portion. It has not collapsed but it is in two parts. One part has moved aside," he said.

"The police are trying to calm people down."

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called an emergency meeting of the National Disaster Management Authority, and Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth said that air force planes carrying rescue teams and relief supplies had been despatched to Sikkim.

Strong tremors were felt in Guwahati, the main city in Assam state, some 600 kilometres away, sending people running into the streets.

"Our apartment block was literally swaying," said housewife Anamika Das.

In Kathmandu, traffic came to a standstill as hotels and bars were evacuated.

Hundreds of anxious tourists and residents waited for news in car parks and on the streets as the seasonal monsoon rain lashed down.

In Bhutan, buildings in the capital Thimphu were also rocked.

"Our wooden house is safe. Jars fell in kitchen, books fell from shelf," Thimphu resident Aby Tharakan, a media consultant, said in a message posted on the microblogging website Twitter.

India's seven northeastern states, joined to the rest of the country by a narrow sliver of land, are located in an area of frequent seismic activity.

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Five dead in Nepal from quake in NE India: police
Kathmandu (AFP) Sept 18, 2011 - Five people were killed in Nepal as a strong earthquake with its epicentre in India rocked the region on Sunday, with three of those dying as a wall collapsed at the British Embassy, police said.

"At least three people were killed in Kathmandu when a British Embassy wall collapsed due to the earthquake and another two from a separate incident in eastern Nepal," national police spokesman Binod Singh told AFP.

A motorcyclist and his eight-year-old daughter who was riding with him were hit by the collapsing wall and were declared dead by doctors at the Manmohan Hospital, Singh said, while another man also died in the embassy incident.

The 6.9-magnitude quake, whose epicentre was in the mountainous northeast Indian state of Sikkim, triggered strong tremors across neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan.

In Kathmandu, 270 kilometres (170 miles) west of the epicentre, traffic came to a standstill as hotels and bars were evacuated.

Hundreds of anxious tourists and residents waited for news in car parks and on the streets as heavy monsoon rain poured down.

In parliament, lawmakers leapt to their feet and ran out of the chamber shouting when the quake hit during an evening debate on the budget, witnesses told AFP.

The parliament building was empty within minutes as legislators including Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai gathered outside to wait for the all-clear before returning after 15 minutes.

Television channels reported that hospitals were treating people injured by falling masonry or as they tried to escape swaying buildings.

The Nepalese home ministry said that several police teams had been deployed for rescue and relief operations.

Local media also said houses and schools had been damaged or destroyed in the Taplejung district in the eastern hills bordering Sikkim.

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