Thursday, January 14, 2016

Images from a fatal landslide in the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya (14Jan2016)

Most, if not all landslides in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya are triggered by intense rainfall, as such I was surprised to be informed by a friend early this morning of a landslide at Bhotey Bhir, near Rangpo, when it has been bone dry all winter.
Rangpo is on NH10, just an hour's drive from my home in Kalimpong and the landslide had occurred on National Highway10 (formerly NH31A)  at approx 05.00AM IST after the BRO's heavy earth moving machinery had finished doing its work of widening the NH10. I was informed at that 4 vehicles were buried in the slide but there had been only one fatality.
Placed below are images of the area when I visited the scene of the landslide area.
The landslide (coordinates 27°09’49.6” N 088°31’55.5” E, elevation 286m)on Google Earth.
Long queues on NH10 as they await clearance of the landslide.
Close-up of the area with a vehicle stuck in the landslide.
Anxious onlookers at the scene of the landslide, awaiting news...
The trucker who survived - the driver of a truck which was caught in the slide but managed to escape.
And the one who did not - a lone fatality and the body of a driver of another truck is brought down from the slide area by volunteers.
Debris removal and search operations continue at the landslide site
View of landslide from opposite bank of the Teesta (one can judge the size of the landslide with reference to that of the truck)

While there are many major landslide zones in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya (and I am sure in the entire Himalayas as well), our experience has been that fatal landslides are increasingly occurring in areas outside these zones and the characteristic of these landslides are typically :-
a. They are small landslides (like today's landslide in Rangpo)
b. Though rainfall may have been a trigger, there is also a large human footprint in the cause of the landslide.
c. They occur randomly, in dense urban settings, in villages and so on and as such are difficult to predict or set up EW machinery.
d. Since human activity (such as unplanned development) is a trigger in these landslides, much can be done to control, manage and mitigate this type of fatal landslides - it is a different matter that nothing is being done.
e. They will therefore continue to cause fatalities.
You can read the media report here

Update on the above landslide
a. As per media reports the death toll in the above tragedy now stands at two with a second person succumbing to the injuries sustained.
b. Also, there were 5 vehicles buried in the debris and not 4, as earlier stated.
c. NH10 was declared open by the BRO at 1837hrs on 15Jan2016.

Praful Rao,
Dist Darjeeling

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