PATNA/KATHMANDU: More than 400,000 people in eastern India face the risk of flooding after a landslide that killed at least nine people in neighbouring Nepal, an Indian government official said on Sunday, as thousands were being evacuated.
The landslide triggered by heavy rains has left scores of people missing and has created a mud dam blocking the Sunkoshi river, which runs into India’s Bihar state as the Kosi river.
The fear is that as Nepal tries to blast its way through the landslide to clear it, it will unleash a torrent of water across densely populated Bihar. Around 425,000 people could be affected by the floods and authorities have already evacuated 44,000 across seven districts of Bihar, said Ashok Kumar, an officer at the state’s disaster management unit.
“We are shifting people from the area where the water is expected to reach,” Kumar said. He added that 117 relief camps have been set up in the region so far. In some places the authorities have had to force people to leave their homes, said S.S. Guleria, deputy inspector general at the National Disaster Response Force. “Many are unwilling to leave their homes, but we are trying to evacuate them by force, keeping in view the impending troubles,” Guleria said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Kathmandu to speed up negotiations on a power trade pact, has expressed concern over the situation in Bihar and said all possible assistance should be made available. The home ministry said in a statement that while the amount of water that had flowed downstream so far was not alarming, the flow could increase suddenly at any time. Indian government officials said on Saturday that water levels were already above the danger mark. Nepal police spokesman, Ganesh K.C. said 150 people were still missing after the landslide that struck Sindhupalchowk district early on Saturday. Around 40 people were rescued, but the chances of finding more survivors were fading.
Gopal Prasad Parajuli, governor of Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk, said further small earth slips had been recorded after the massive landslide, hampering rescue and search operations. Army technicians were preparing to set off another controlled blast to drain more water off of the mud dam on Sunday. They carried out two such blasts on Saturday. “We are very cautiously and slowly doing that to avoid sudden and big flow of water,” army spokesman Jagadish Pokharel said.
The Kosi river has been a problem for both India and Nepal after it broke its banks in 2008 and changed its course, submerging swathes of land, affecting more than 2 million people in Bihar and killing more than 500.
Monsoon rains are crucial for farm-dependent India and Nepal, but scores of people die every year in landslides and floods caused by heavy downpours.
Heavy rains in June last year inundated towns and villages and killed thousands in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and dozens more in the neighbouring district of Darchula in west Nepal.
Nepalese workers yesterday carried out small explosions to clear the debris and break open the dam which had created a large 110-metre (360-feet) deep lake in the river. At least two hydropower stations have been flooded at the site, forcing them to shut down. A three-kilometre stretch of the Arniko Highway, which connects Nepal with Tibet in China, has also been submerged and been closed. As India stepped up evacautions, Nepal’s Koirala said the risk of flooding appeared to be reducing. Officials have also opened a barrage on the river near the India-Nepal border to allow more water to flow downstream, he said. “The water is gradually clearing out, the artificial lake created due to the blockage is shrinking, so the danger is lessening,” he said.
Rescuers yesterday airlifted 34 people to safety from the landslide site, including 19 who suffered serious injuries. Scores of people die every year from flooding and landslides during Nepal’s monsoon season.
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