Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Landslides in Sikkim -16Aug2008

Landslide renders eight families homeless at Marchak

DIKCHU, 17 Aug: A ferocious landslide which struck in the morning of
16 August at Marchak, about six kilometers short of Dikchu from
Singtam, has left eight families homeless. Their houses have suffered
major damages and the terrain remains unstable. The residents have
been shifted to safer locations while the main affected have been
shifted to a nearby school.
The devastation caused by the landslide is evident here, with damaged
houses, a blocked highway [reopened since], dead livestock and
homeless residents trying to retrieve whatever was left for them to
salvage from the rubble. Villagers clutching to their valuables,
sitting on the roadside next to utensils recovered from the rubble,
stared blankly while others shifted beds and cupboards [from houses
under threat] to the nearby school.
The landslide rolled down from around 300 meters uphill, starting from
Yan village in Tintek Block, and totaled houses in its path and
killing livestock when it struck at around 5 AM in the morning.
Rural Sikkim rises early and this saved their lives on Saturday.
"We had just woken up and were in the process of going about our daily
chores when we heard a loud bang like that of gelatin stick blasting
which the NHPC used to carry out in the area. When we came out of our
houses and saw that the hill above was shrouded in a heavy cloud of
dust and debris, we knew that our worst fears had come true. Suddenly,
we heard shouts that a land slide had broken loose and we ran for
safety. Big rocks and debris then came rolling down in full force with
great noise and took away house and destroyed our 'goth' killing
cattle and livestock. The timing was such that no human lives were
lost and we are thankful to god for that," said Arjun Rai, who has
lost a part of his house and was busy shifting his belongings to the
nearby Marchak School where the district administration had set up an
emergency relief camp.
Showing NOW! the place where a relative, Durga Bahadur Rai's house
once stood, Indra Kumari Rai expresses bewilderment at how they
escaped harm. She, along with her family, had taken refuge in the same
house the previous night thinking it to be 'safer' than her own house.
"Our house was just below the mud-slides which had been slipping every
now and then during heavy rains. When the downpour got heavier last
night, we decided to sleep over at our relative's [Durga Bahadur]
house which we thought was safe enough. This slide has taken the same
house. It is frightening to even imagine what would have happened if
the slide had come down at night, or, for that matter, even later in
the day. There are small children everywhere, and the timing of the
slide was such as no one was running around, we just clutched them and
ran for safety," she recounted.
The slide also blocked the Singtam-Dikchu Highway for an entire day
and was cleared by the GREF by this morning. The huge boulders which
had fallen on the road had to be 'blasted'.
Some of the locals like Indra Kumari Rai have also complained of
inefficient and unplanned blasting which had further damaged their
property which is just below the main slide zone.
"The GREF blasting shot up rocks which have further damaged my kitchen
which is just next to the washed away house. We have complained to the
district administration and they have asked me to complain to the
GREF, I have told the officer here but I have been busy shifting our
belongings to the Marchak School. Every thing is unstable and we are
moving all our belongings and whatever is left. We shall be living in
the school today, but again, the officers have asked us to move out to
another location by tomorrow [Sunday] as the school reopens on Monday.
We are in dilemma, let's see what happens", says Ms. Rai.
The residents have also now become more vocal in expressing their
concerns over the stability of the area and contend that the frequent
slides are being caused by 'irresponsible' blasting conducted by the
NHPC during the construction of the tunnel for Stage V which runs from
Aap Dara near Dikchu to Balutar near Singtam.
"Land along the tunnel stretch towards Singtam and Dikchu started
giving way ever since the blastings commenced. The entire hill has
become unstable," states Durga Bahadur Rai who has lost his entire
house to the slide, along with two cows and two pigs. It was his house
where Indra Kumari Rai and Arjun Rai's families of around 18,
including children, had taken refuge in the previous night.
The first to reach the spot as per the locals were personnel from the
Dikchu Police Out-Post, including the OC and the Second In-charge,
who, with the help of locals, started immediate relief work. By
afternoon, large numbers of locals from the neighboring villages had
gathered at the spot to help in the evacuation process.
Area MLA Norzang Lepcha, accompanied by the SDM [Gangtok] AB Karki and
BDO, Rakdong-Tintek, Tenzing D Denzongpa also arrived for verification
and released ex-gratia relief to the affected families.
Durga Bahadur Rai was given Rs. 10,000 as his house has been totally
damaged while the others affected like Indra Kumari Rai, Kamal Kumar
Chettri and Laxmi Prasad Bhattarai who has also lost two of his cows
were provided with Rs. 2,000 each. The eight families who have been
shifted received Rs. 1,500 each.
After inspection, the affected familes were shifted to private
structure under construction in the area where the relief camp will
move after Sunday so that the school can reopen on Monday.

Comment by praful rao

Landslides do not respect political boundaries and even though Sikkim is a separate state, it is a part of a
contiguous geographic region.
I am extremely glad that STH has become a platform from where we can let the world know about a hazard which recurs every year with unfailing regularity and threatens to engulf large parts of our populated areas in the years ahead.
Climate change and global warming together with a host of anthropogenic factors makes it imperative for us to work cohesively and concertedly towards combating this hazard.

My thanks to
a) Ms Mita Zulka and
b) 'NOW' newspaper of Sikkim
for the above report and photographs.

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