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Indian earthquake, mudslides kill 53

GANGTOK, India -- Rescue workers in helicopters and earth movers raced yesterday to reach Indian villages cut off by mudslides after a powerful earthquake killed 53 people and damaged more than 100,000 homes in the remote Himalayan region, officials said.

Three emergency workers were killed in the frantic, rain-soaked rescue effort. More than 6,000 troops worked to clear concrete slabs, bricks and mud to rescue scores of people trapped under houses that collapsed when the magnitude-6.9 quake struck the mountainous region Sunday evening.

Nine helicopters dropped food to villages, airlifted a medical team, evacuated the injured and conducted damage assessments, Indian Home Secretary R.K. Singh said. Heavy construction equipment was used to clear some of the blocked roads, he said.

"The rescue and relief operations are in full swing, though they were hampered . . . by poor weather," he said.

At least 32 people died and 100 others were injured in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, where the quake was centered near the border with Nepal, Singh said. At least 10 of those killed worked for the same hydroelectric project, he said. It was not immediately clear how they died.

Seven other people were killed in the neighboring Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, he said. Seven people died in Nepal, and China's official Xinhua News Agency reported seven deaths in Tibet.

Most of the deaths occurred when houses, already weakened from recent monsoon rains, collapsed in the force of the quake.

While rescue workers managed to reach many cut-off villages, Singh said it was still unclear what the final toll might be.

"There may still be villages where people are trapped under collapsed houses that we have not been able to reach," he said.

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