Sunday, June 26, 2011

Landslides in Pelling (West Sikkim) - 23Jun2011

Pelling in West Sikkim, was a quaint little town, better known for its breath taking views of the  Kanchenjunga ranges, the awesome beauty of the landscape which surrounds it and the numerous waterfalls.
Today, it is a tourist hotspot and as such over the recent years, multi-storey hotels and buildings have mushroomed in the town and so when it had a rather unwelcome visitor recently, people died.
A five hour torrential downpour (from approx 7.30pm to a little past midnight on 23Jun2011) in Pelling and its neighbourhood caused numerous relatively small, landslides in the region which nevertheless resulted in 16 or more deaths and again, the landslides  had a familiar commonality to most of those occurring in this region in the recent past - they were related to or caused by excessive human interference in these mountains.
According to an elder citizen of Pelling, he had not seen anything like this happen for the past 70yrs!

Comment by Praful Rao
The story and photos are from a citizen of Pelling who prefers to remain anonymous.
Also jhoras are natural rivulets or drains which today are a major source of soil erosion in the region since they are charged with large volumes of high velocity surface runoff rainwater  from increasing paved areas as the urban sprawl expands on the crests of mountains.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Landslides in W.Sikkim (23Jun2011)

‘Secure’ house turns graveyard for 14 at Khurong Kewa Dara
Reported By Pratima Rai
GEYZING, June 24: Sixteen persons were killed in multiple slides which broke out in various places of West Sikkim yesterday night due to torrential rainfall between 8:30 pm to 11 pm collapsing the entire inter-district connectivity, power and water supply, said authorities.
            The heaviest death toll was reported from Khurong Kewa Dara along Pelling-Dentam road, some 15 kms away from Geyzing, the District headquarters of West Sikkim where 14 people including an unidentified three months old toddler were buried.
            Two persons were also killed by slides at separate places, Tikjuk and Lower Pelling in West District.
            “Fourteen people were buried when a house in which they had taken shelter at Khurong Kewa Dara collapsed after being hit by a massive slide at around 11:30 pm. Two more persons were killed at other locations by slides”, West District Collector Santa Kumar Pradhan said.
            Pradhan informed that multiple slides which broke out due to heavy rainfall between 8:30 pm and 11:30 pm have virtually collapsed the entire inter-District connectivity along with power and water crises in various parts of the District. Even the District headquarters at Geyzing is suffering from power and water supply problems.
            “We are trying to restore connectivity with the rest of the State by opening the Legship-Gangtok road by evening,” said the District Collector before his mobile went off due to empty battery.
            According to the details pieced from disaster management officials and local volunteers, the heavy casualty at Khurong Kewa Dara took place due to a misplace notion of security among the victims. There are some seven houses in this village and four families living in kutcha houses had taken shelter in a two-storied wooden house belonging to Indra Maya Gurung yesterday night. The house was the only shop in the village.
            “The families who were living in kutcha houses were scared of slides taking place due to heavy rainfall and they had taken shelter in the wooden house considering it to be a secure place. However, a heavy slide peeled off the road above and with boulders and crashed into the house which collapsed”, said disaster managed officer Zigmee Bhutia.
            Eight bodies have been dug out so far, said the official adding the local volunteers, police, fire personnel and other agencies are on the task. If the victims had remained in their houses, they would have survived.                   
           Eleven others had escaped death by either managing to scamper to safety or being a ‘foot away’ when the building crashed under the weight of the slide. Four of them including house owner Indra Maya Gurung have been admitted to District hospital at Geyzing for treatment.
            “The moment I felt that a slide had broken out in the road above, I grabbed my two kids and along with my wife ran away outside. Moments later, the slide came crashing down from 100 feet above the road. The road simply broke off and I felt that a whole hill side was coming down”, said survivor Nima Tamang (23), a Nepal resident who was working as a labourer in the village         Meanwhile at Tikjuk in West Sikkim, a physically challenged woman was killed when she was trying to escape a slide in her village at around the same hour. Deceased Man Maya Subba (55) was running along with her sister from the slide near their house when she was buried in the slide, officials have informed.
            At Lower Pelling, Raj Kumar Thakur, a barber by profession was also killed when his katcha house was hit by a slide, police sources informed. Communications like road, mobile and telephone have been severely crippled in the District due to slides.



Comment by Praful Rao
The fact that 16 people died in the slides indicates that the affected area had a fairly dense population. I have yet to get details of the amount of rainfall or the probable cause of the slides.
What I find perturbing is that  this year landslides are occurring in the first week or two of rains which has been preceded by a long dry spell ie from from Oct2010 till almost now.
My thanks to Sikkim Express for the report and photos.
           

Friday, June 24, 2011

A happy picture for you !

I suppose one needs a break from the depressing weather and grim stories which  spew out  from STH blog during the monsoons.
So here is a happy photograph for you!
SUMI, the largest and one of the oldest schools in Darjeeling district, is celebrating its 125th anniversary. As a part of this and in keeping with  World Environment Day theme this year ("Forests : Nature at your service"), the school undertook planting of over 5,000 tree and vetiver grass saplings at two landslide prone areas of Kalimpong.
On 20Jun2011, almost 700 students of the school planted 2,700 tree saplings at Bhamey gaon in Sindebung, an area which has been repeatedly featured on this blog.
On 23Jun2011, students of the school again planted 2,100 saplings in Lower Bong bustee, a village which has been featured here
I am glad to state that STH was involved with the school in this venture for acquiring the vetiver grass, selection of the areas for plantation and also liaising with the village people.

Praful Rao

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From the "Telegraph" today -21Jun2011

Landslide hits school - Finger at hotel drains 
Darjeeling, June 20: A landslide allegedly triggered by poor drainage system in a hotel dumped debris and muck in the compound of Nepali Girls’ Higher Secondary School in Darjeeling, about an hour before students were to gather on the campus for assembly.
The landslide at 6.45am completely destroyed the school’s assembly shed, where students were to gather an hour later, and the muck from the hotel Camino’s septic tank entered the institution’s premises.
“On rainy days we conduct our assembly at the shed and it is by God’s grace that students escaped the disaster today,” said Aditi Biswas, the headmistress of the girls’ school.
The school, which was founded in 1890, has more than 1,700 students on its roll. “Mud and slush has also entered the school building. The entire septic tank of the hotel has crashed into the school building and the hostel,” said Biswas. The government-aided school managed by the Church of North India has around 80 boarders. But all the boarders escaped as the rubbles fell on a different portion of the hostel.
“Our repeated complaints to the hotel authorities about the poor drainage system have been in vain. Some years ago, pine trees, too, had crashed on the school building. but luckily no one was injured even then,” said the headmistress.
Following the landslide, the school was closed today for the summer vacation and it will reopen on July 3.
“The school was to close for summer holiday after a few days. We have, however, decided to close it from today itself as it would be dangerous to open the school as more landslides could occur anytime because of the rain. Unless proper protection work is done and the slush cleared, there is no question of keeping the school open,” said Biswas.
C.B. Pradhan, owner of hotel Camino along Gandhi road, said the landslide had occurred as the school authorities had recently fell pine trees just below the hotel.
“They had felled the trees only recently and the landslide was triggered because of heavy rains. Nevertheless, we will start clearing the mud and constructing a retention wall on a war footing from tomorrow morning,” said Pradhan.

Praful Rao

Monday, June 20, 2011

Landslides in Kurseong (19Jun2011) and Darjeeling (20Jun2011)

After the landslide fatalities of 17Jun2011, rain continued to lash the entire district in varying amounts. Kurseong received the brunt of it and this resulted in more slides taking place the already vulnerable area of St Mary's Hill there. Fear stricken residents of the area fled to safer areas. Photos from the area placed below :-


High intensity rainfall has continued in the entire district today (20Jun2011) and it clocked 152mm by 7.45am at Darjeeling whereas Kalimpong and Kurseong received approx 60mm during a 3hr period.
The torrent in Darjeeling resulted in a nightmare coming true :- a landslide in a densely populated urban setting - and as in cyclone AILA in May2009, the causes for the slide evidently being related to drainage and other human activities. The only silver lining was that because the landslide took place quite early (7.40am), there was little human activity and the Nepali Girls Higher Secondary School some parts of which were buried by the slide was closed at the time. As such there were no deaths or casualties.  Some of the buildings seen in the photos have been evacuated for the time being. Photos of the landslide are placed below :-


Credits
My thanks to STH member, Bhushan Chettri for his enthusiastic response, story and photos from Kurseong and to Mr Tenzin Sherpa of ATREE, Darjeeling for the photos from Darjeeling

Praful Rao


Sunday, June 19, 2011

STH storm watch :- The last update for the depression (hopefully)

Excerpt from the IMD Cyclone page

BOB 02/2011/16 Dated: 19.06.2011
   Time of issue: 1100 hours IST
Sub: Depression over Jharkhand and adjoining Gangetic West Bengal.
The depression over Jharkhand and adjoining Gangetic West Bengal has moved further northwards and lay centred at 0830 hours IST of 19 June 2011 near lat. 23.50 N and long. 85.50 E, about 50 km southeast of Ranchi. The system would move west-northwestwards and weaken gradually.
Under its influence, rain/thundershowers at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places would occur over Jharkhand, north Chhattisgarh and east Madhya Pradesh during next 24 hours. Rain/thundershowers at many places with isolated heavy to very heavy fall would occur over north Orissa, Gangetic West Bengal, Bihar and east Uttar Pradesh during the same period.
Rain/thundershowers at most places with isolated heavy to very heavy falls would occur over south Chhattisgarh, west Madhya Pradesh and Vidarbha during next 48 hours.
The system is under constant watch and concerned state Govts are being informed accordingly.

 Rainfall (in mm) 

                    
16Jun2011   17Jun2011      18Jun2011         Total         
Darjeeling        3                 56                    80                 139

Kurseong        108            201                    39                  348

Kalimpong      2                31                      81                 114

Average monthly rainfall
for Jun (Darjeeling district) - 
495.8mm (Source)
Source of rainfall data : STH Automatic Rainfall Gauges
Praful Rao
                                        

   

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A photo from NH31A and an update on the depression- 18Jun2011


Traffic along the National Highway 31A (NH31A) remained disturbed for the second consecutive day due to landslides, even though the the Border Roads Task Force was quick to respond.
The depression too remained depressingly static, churning around east of Kolkata again for the second consecutive day while Kolkata received 154 mm rainfall, the highest for any single day in June in the last decade.

Praful Rao

One day of rain - 17Jun2011

It seems incredible that just a few days ago I was blogging (see here and here) about the deficient rainfall this year in the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim (which has resulted in many of the perennial springs in this region drying up) and on17Jun2011, just a couple of days later, in a spell of rain lasting not more than 12hours, three children and a young father lost their lives to landslides in Kurseong (Darjeeling dist).
The rains also triggered a small slip near the 27th Mile, Stage III, NHPC Lo-Dam. Small though it was, it brought all the traffic on National Highway 31A to a grinding halt for 5 hours or more with 500 odd vehicles being stranded on either side of the slip.
The above incident speaks volumes of the state of our disaster preparedness or the lack of it, considering that in Feb2011, Severe Cyclone YASI, a storm bigger than KATRINA, smashed into Queensland in Australia but resulted in only one death thanks, to the excellent early warning and awareness amongst the people.
Miles to go before we sleep!
Some photos of 17Jun2011 are placed below :-




Rainfall stats of 17Jun2011:-

a) Kurseong :- 180mm (source STH ARG at Dow Hill, Kurseong)
b) Kalimpong :-31mm (source STH ARG at Tirpai, Kalimpong)
c) Darjeeling :- 54mm (source STH ARG at Gandhi Road, Darjeeling)

Comment by Praful Rao
My thanks to our young STH member from Kurseong, Bhushan Chhetri for the photos of Kurseong and the story.

Friday, June 17, 2011

STH storm watch update :- Tracking the storm

Placed below are 3 Infra-red images of the depression taken from the IMD website at 0900h GMT (2.30pm IST), 1030h GMT (4pm IST) & 1130h GMT (5pm IST). The movement of the system is clearly discernible..more on the predicted path and track is available here and here


Praful Rao

STH storm watch :- The first depression of 2011 in the Bay of Bengal update

    Sub: Deep depression over Gangetic West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh.  
      The deep depression over Gangetic West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh remained practically stationary and lay centred over Gangetic West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh at 0530 hrs IST of today, the 17 June 2011, near lat. 22.50 N and long. 89.00 E, about 130 km northeast of Sagar Island, 80 km east of Kolkata and 150 km west-northwest of Khepupara (Bangladesh). The system is likely to move north-northwestwards initially and then west-northwestwards and weaken gradually into a depression during next 24 hours.
       Under its influence, rain/thundershowers at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places would occur over north Orissa, Jharkhand and coastal districts of West Bengal during next 48 hours. Isolated extremely heavy falls (25 cm) would also occur over north Orissa during the same period. Rainfall at most places with isolated heavy to very heavy falls would occur over south Orissa, Chhattisgarh and remaining parts of Gangetic West Bengal during next 48 hours.
       Squally winds with speed reaching 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph would occur along and off north Orissa and West Bengal coasts during next 12 hours. Sea condition will be rough to very rough along and off these coasts. Fishermen are advised not to venture into the Sea off these coasts during next 12 hours.
       The system is under constant watch and concerned state Govts are being informed accordingly.
Comment by Praful Rao
As per information received, landslides triggered by the heavy down pour in the early morning today have caused 4 deaths in Kurseong and traffic jams along NH31A. We should be able to give a more correct report soon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

STH storm watch :- The first depression of 2011 in the Bay of Bengal

One of the primary roles of STH is to maintain a close watch (using the Internet and SMS) on all the adverse weather developments in the Bay of Bengal. Today, the first depression of the season (2011) formed.
An excerpt from the
IMD Cyclone website is placed as under :-

Excerpt from the Cyclone warning page of IMD website
Sub: Deep Depression crossed West Bengal coast. 
The depression  over north Bay of Bengal off West Bengal & Bangladesh coast moved northward, intensified into a deep depression and crossed West Bengal coast near about 100 km east of Sagar Island between 1630-1730 hours IST. The deep depression lay centred  at 1730 hrs IST of today, the 16th June 2011, over Gangetic West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh near lat. 22.00 N and long. 89.00 E, about 100 km east-northeast of Sagar Island, 100 km southeast of Kolkata and 130 km west of Khepupara (Bangladesh).  The system is likely to move north-northwestwards initially and then west-northwestwards and weaken gradually  into a depression during next 24 hours.
       Under its influence, rain/thundershower at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places would occur over north Orissa, Jharkhand and coastal districts of West Bengal during next 48 hours. Isolated extremely heavy falls (25 cm) would also occur over north Orissa during the same period. Rainfall at most places with isolated heavy to very heavy falls would occur over south Orissa, Chhattisgarh and remaining parts of Gangetic West Bengal during next 48 hours.
       Squally winds with speed reaching 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph would occur along and off north Orissa and West Bengal coasts during next 12 hours. Sea condition will be rough to very rough along and off these coasts. Fishermen are advised not to venture into the Sea off these coasts during next 12 hours.      
     The system is under constant watch and concerned state Govts are being informed accordingly.

The Infra-Red (IR)satellite image of the area  is placed below

 Praful Rao

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of rainfall or the lack of it.

Most, if not all the landslides in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalayas are rain induced, so keeping a track of the amount of rainfall & rainfall intensities is very much a part of our role.
2010 was a year of deficient rainfall in our area and as such, as far as landslides are concerned - it was a good year.
Rather alarmingly though, we seem to be following this trend in 2011 as well  and thus far, rainfall has again been deficient in most places in this area. The deviations from normals for some of towns in this region is given below :-

Rainfall data upto 14Jun2011


Normal
 Actual
 %departure




CoochBehar
299.3
150.5
-050.0
Bagdogra
205.6
209.1
002.0
Darjeeling
196.6
64.2
-067.0
Kalimpong
147.7
40.8
-072.0
Jalpaiguri
242.4
152.8
-037.0
Gangtok
326.2
293.9
-010.0
Pedong
186.1
137.0
-026.0

(Source I Met D, Sikkim)

And for those interested, I have placed two charts which explain what the Met pundits mean when they talk about rainfall intensities :-

Praful Rao




Friday, June 10, 2011

Monsoon worry for hill roads - From the Telegraph today.


RAJEEV RAVIDAS
Kurseong, June 9: Residents of Kurseong and Darjeeling are worried about the bad condition of the two main roads, connecting the places to Siliguri, that are likely to worsen during the monsoon.
Of the two stretches, NH55 also called the Tenzing Norgay Marg, has been shut since June after a landslide near Paglajhora damaged a stretch on the highway.
Although vehicles are plying Rohini Road, the stretch looks nothing more than a dirt track. A few days of heavy showers can make the road unusable even for light vehicles.
If both these stetches are shut during the rains, the only other Siliguri-Kurseong-Darjeeling road link will be the Pankhabari Road. However, since the route is narrow and steep at several places only small vehicles can ply the route.
Heavy vehicles like trucks carrying essential commodities to Kurseong and Darjeeling will then have to take the circuitous Siliguri-Kalijhora-Mungpoo road.
The detour takes around two hours more. Normally the journey to Kurseong and Darjeeling can be completed in around three hours.
Local residents blame the heavily loaded trucks for turning Rohini Road into a potholed dirt track.
“The up-bound trucks are supposed to take the Mungpoo Road but they do not do so. Most of them drive up to the hills in the night,” said S. Pradhan, the secretary of the Janmukti Chalak Mahasangh, Kurseong, a unit of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.He said they would meet Morcha president Bimal Gurung and apprise him of the condition of the roads. “We have already requested the three MLAs from the hills to raise the matter in the next session of the state Assembly,” Pradhan said.
However, since the monsoon has already arrived, it is unlikely that major repair works on the Rohini Road would be taken up now.
The highway (NH55) is in no better shape because the landslide prone area near Paglajhora, which is also a sinking zone, will again get affected once the rains start.
Although the PWD (NH division-9), which maintains the road, said the 475-metre stretch on the road that was breached after the mudslide has been reconstructed, driving through it is unsafe as huge boulders keep falling on the road from the hill side.
“The road is not safe for driving. We are, however, confident that breaches on the road will not occur again,” said Nirmal Mandal, the executive engineer of PWD (NH Division-9).
Residents of the area are, however, worried about the condition of the highway which they think will worsen once it starts raining. They are also apprehensive that the prices of commodities would rise since the vehicles have to take a detour to reach the destinations.
“What were the people responsible for maintaining the roads doing during the dry season? They should have repaired the road before the onset of the monsoon. They should actually compensate for the additional expense that we will have to incur due to the rise in the prices of essential commodities once both the roads are closed,” said Robin Thapa, a resident of Dow Hill.

Comment by Praful Rao
STH has blogged about the landslide at Paglajhora after visiting the place on 10May2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

05Jun2011 - World Environment Day in Kalimpong

W.E.D on 05Jun2011 was celebrated in Kalimpong with a flurry of activities ranging from planting of tree saplings to an art competition and a clean up of the town by volunteers comprising of school children & community groups.
I am glad to say that STH was involved in a number of these activities.

Praful Rao

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Quake report :- 6. 23AM, 03Jun2011

We had a minor earthquake here in Kalimpong on the date and time mentioned (which I think was also felt thruout the Darjeeling-Sikkim area.)  No damage has been reported.
Praful Rao

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rainfall May2011 - running deficient again.


Rainfall Data of May 2011

Darjeeling (126mm)     Kurseong (291mm)     Kalimpong (91mm)

Normal rainfall  for Darjeeling district in May - 258.7mm (Source)

Note :STH ARGs are located at Gandhi Road in Darjeeling, Dow Hill in Kurseong and Tirpai in Kalimpong.

As in this period in 2010 we have had a deficiency in rainfall this year.

Praful Rao