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Rescuers reach India quake victims

Rescuers have finally reached some of the villages in India's remote north-east cut off by a powerful earthquake as the death toll in the disaster climbed past 100.

Rescue efforts following Sunday's 6.9 magnitude quake, which also struck parts of Tibet and Nepal, were slow-going because heavy rains kept helicopters grounded and mudslides blocked roads leading into remote, mountainous terrain.

As the weather improved, helicopters were able to ferry relief workers to some inaccessible areas for the first time, an Indian air force spokesman said. Other workers moved forwards on the ground, using heavy machinery and dynamite to clear roads.

The spokesman also said that nine villages with a combined population of nearly 1,000 were still cut off but that aircraft had been able to drop rice and other supplies to stranded residents.

India's home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram visited some of the hardest-hit areas and said the army assured him that by Friday at the latest they would be able to access the nine villages by road.

Two injured people were taken by helicopter to a hospital. Nearly 200 homes were damaged in Chungthang, which has a population of nearly 2,000 people.

The 104 confirmed deaths from the quake were spread across a wide swathe of the sparsely populated Himalayan region, with officials reporting 73 dead in the worst-hit state of Sikkim, 12 in West Bengal, six in Bihar, six in the neighbouring Nepal and another seven in the Chinese region of Tibet.

Word on casualties and damage from the cut-off villages has been slow to come by and the toll is expected to rise.

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