Sunday, May 31, 2009

A report from Chimney Village, Kurseong (Dist Darjeeling) -cyclone AILA contd.


Never before had the residents of Chimney ever witnessed what the mother Nature had to present its inhabitants on the 26th of may,2009.

Chimney, a historical place located on the top hill of Kurseong Division was one among the many affected by the havoc of nature’s fury during cyclone AILA. The place which was once considered by the British Colonial raj as a perfect resting place when one traveled on a horse is today in a state of anguish and disrepair.
People who had been primarily surviving on farming and cattle are now left with just hope and prayer. Ram Syangden, a farmer who had been sustaining his family five family members grieved “I had been looking after my family by means of dairy production but now with the death of five cows among seven, now I am not able to see what lies ahead ”.

Chimney, a place mainly comprising of old wooden houses, with few concrete buildings was badly hit by the strong winds and rain. Mr.Rudhra Tamang,an ex-army person had something unusual to share “ I was in my house praying hard for the intense rain to stop when I heard a deafening sound outside. I rushed towards the window to see the tin roof of the neighbor’s house being blown away and it flew towards the wooden electric post cutting down the wires. I tried to call for help in order to get the people of that house to safety but could not be heard due to the noise of the storm.”

Many people who have met a similar fate and are “climate refugees” in Chimney Primary School hall.

The Block Development Office, has issued plastic sheets to them to cover areas where there is high possibilities of landslide but the people seem discontent and helpless as this alone will not help.

Binita, said “this aid provided to us is not enough as you can see. Our entire roof has been blown off which makes the situation much more vulnerable if it rains again"
- photos and report by Mikma Tsering Lepcha


Mikma is a brilliant,young Mass Communications graduate from St Joseph's College, Darjeeling who is currently working in Delhi. He was on vacation in his hometown, Kurseong when Cyclone AILA struck on 26 May09.
My thanks to him for the article and photographs
-Praful Rao

Images from Kurseong after cyclone AILA

During the 3 days (24May-26May09) that cyclone AILA was active over Darjeeling district, Kurseong, one of the subdivisions of the district also suffered.
In all 7 people perished in landslides, 2 people died in Singhal Tea Estate while 5 of a single family died in the landslide at Cutlery bustee (village) shown in this blog.
This landslide occurred on 26May09 at around 8AM and slide 1 (above) shows where it started, slides 2 -5 show the community response in rescue efforts which followed.


My thanks to our young member from Kurseong (Bhushan Chhetri) for the photographs and the story

Praful Rao

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Images of NHPC Dams and NH31A after Cyclone AILA (24-26May2009)

Photo credits :- Chinlop Fudong Lepcha and Anubhav Sood

Images of Darjeeling during AILA (24-26May2009)

So AILA has come and gone and in its aftermath has left 27 people dead (20 in Darjeeling and 7 in Kurseong), many,many houses damaged, 2 National HydroElectric Power Corporation (NHPC) dams badly mauled, several stretches of arterial roads in tatters and a lot of people anxious and worried that we still have 4 months of the monsoons ahead of us which will bring in 2500mm of rain at least.
This is precisely the type of scenario, we in STH have been shouting hoarse about, where landslides take place in densely populated urban areas and where the causes for these slides are largely anthropogenic. In the course of the past 3-4 days I have talked to many people from Darjeeling and Kurseong and ALL unanimously agree that the landslides were caused by drainage related problems.

Placed in this page are images from Darjeeling.

(Photo credits :- My thanks to Kanta Pradhan, Suman Tamang, Rueben Pradhan and Rabin Rai for allowing use of these photographs)

- Praful Rao

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Media cover :Telegraph on AILA

Calcutta, May 26: Aila has withered away but not before the beast worked its way up the spine of Bengal and wreaked havoc till the tip of the state in Darjeeling.

By 5.30pm today, all that was left of the remnant of the cyclone was a low-pressure formation in a trough over north Bengal. A low-pressure formation can cause scattered rain, not widespread destruction like a cyclone.

But before Aila transformed itself into a far less potent form, it had killed at least 82 people and rendered lakhs homeless. Aila’s trail bound the south Bengal coast to the northern hills in a serpentine ribbon of destruction with as many as 20 deaths reported in Darjeeling in landslides triggered by the cyclone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

STH storm watch - Cyclone "AILA" comes calling

Almost 72hrs after sending an email alert to most NGOs and a concerned Govt Agency and posting the satellite picture of the cyclone in its nascent stage, Cyclone "AILA" is here.
We have had incessant rain since yesterday (65mm on 25May09 and 67mm so far today- 26May at 0700h) and the forecast is that we will continue to have heavy rain until 27May09 at least.

Monday, May 25, 2009

STH storm watch ..Tracking Cyclone "Aila"

Sub: Cyclone warning for West Bengal and north Orissa coasts. “Orange Message”

The cyclonic storm “AILA” over northwest & adjoining central Bay of Bengal remained practically stationary and lay centred at 2330 hours IST of today, the 24th May 2009 near lat. 19.00 N and long. 88.50 E, about 250 km east-southeast of Paradip, 300 km south-southeast of Sagar Island and 380 km southwest of Khepupara (Bangladesh). The system is likely to intensify further and move in a near northerly direction and cross West Bengal-Bangladesh coast near long. 88.50 E (about 50 km east of Sagar Island) around 25th May 2009 afternoon/evening.


The satellite image and warning are extracts from

Praful Rao

Sunday, May 24, 2009

STH storm watch..(02/2009)

Dated: 24. 05. 2009 Time of issue: 0200 hours IST
Sub: Depression over west central & adjoining east central Bay of Bengal and cyclone alert for West Bengal coast.

The depression over west central Bay of Bengal moved northeastwards and lay centred at 2330 hours IST of yesterday, the 23rd May 2009 over west central & adjoining east central Bay of Bengal near lat. 17.00 N and long. 88.50 E, about 430 km southeast of Paradip, 530 km south-southeast of Sagar Island and 590 km south-southwest of Khepupara (Bangladesh). The system is likely to intensify further into a cyclonic storm and move in a near northerly direction and cross west Bengal-Bangladesh coast near 890 E (100 km east of Sagar Island) around 25th May 2009 evening Under its influence, rainfall at most places with scattered heavy to very heavy falls and isolated extremely heavy falls (≥ 25 cm) is likely to commence over Gangetic West Bengal and north coastal Orissa from today, the 24th May 2009 afternoon. Gale wind speed reaching 65-75 kmph gusting to 85 kmph are likely to commence along and off West Bengal coast from tomorrow, the 24th May 2009 evening. Squally winds speed reaching 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph are likely to commence along and off north Orissa coasts from today, the 24th May evening. Sea condition will be high along and off West Bengal coast and rough to very rough along and off Orissa coast. Fishermen are advised not to venture into the sea along and off these coasts.
Next bulletin will be issued at 0730 hrs IST of today, the 24th May 2009.

The above report is from

Praful Rao

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Save the Hills" : Theme for the 7th CROSS ROADS festival amongst Schools of Kalimpong

"The Crossroads Festival is an annual event held amongst the Indian Council for Secondary Examination (ICSE) schools of Kalimpong with an aim to foster harmony amongst the students and staff of the schools. This year 11 schools with approx 200 students took part in the 2 day long event and it was our proud privilege to host the event. The theme that was unanimously chosen by the Heads of schools for the this year's Fest was "Save the Hills" in order to generate an awareness amongst the children about the fragility of our ecosystem and the scourge of landslides. The sit and draw competition was based on this theme and the Heads of participating schools and some of the senior invitees planted saplings as a symbolic gesture in keeping with the theme.
At the end of the fest, the children besides having a lot of fun were a lot more aware about the dangers that landslides pose for the people living here and the need to protect our mountains."

- Mr Dogyal Tshering, Director SPRINGDALE ACADEMY, Kalimpong.

Comments by Praful Rao
My thanx to the Heads of the participating schools for their intitiative and particularly to Mr Dogyal Tshering, Director, Springdale Academy .

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some good news about landslides

An excerpt from the Govt of India "Guidelines on Landslides"

"Unlike Earthquakes and Floods, Landslides are localized events and are induced by some causative factors, which are well understood. This hazard can be most effectively controlled or reduced to the minimum level if initiatives and activities are based on the most modern technological and scientific approaches and the policy is implemented through a well coordinated institutionalized mechanism"

Comment by Praful Rao

Having heard the good news, it is time we put these words into action...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Interesting stuff from yesterday's papers

An Excerpt from The Statesman (05May2009) - North Bengal and Sikkim Plus


N Bengal prepares for monsoon floods

Statesman News Service
JALPAIGURI, April 5: The commissioner, Jalpaiguri division, Mr J Sundar Sekhar today held a divisional level meeting on flood control with officials of six north Bengal districts.
The magistrates of six districts, land and land reforms department officials, representatives of the Indian Army, Sashastra Seema Bal, Indian Air Force, BSF and other state and Central agencies attended the meeting.
“The monsoons are on their way and given the characteristics of north Bengal's fast flowing rivers, floods are a serious probability, as was experienced in the past. Under the circumstances, the administration has decided to take measures in advance and
apply new techniques to handle flood-related calamity in the region. It is the district administration and irrigation department's responsibility to initiate projects or plans for flood control but the process was disrupted due to the Lok Sabha poll. With the election over in these parts, the Election Commission is providing clearance to some projects,” Mr Sekhar said.
The divisional commissioner added that enough funds were in hand to handle flood related problems in the region. “Funds are not a problem. We need to work out a comprehensive plan to handle the situation efficiently. Today's meeting was held to prepare the administration and unite all the state and Central concerns for better coordination. We have decided to hold regular district level coordination meetings with these agencies and to open flood-related control rooms in every district immediately. The irrigation and animal husbandry departments have already opened a few control rooms in some districts. The wireless network of the police, BSF, army and forest department would also be used to share flood-related information,” he said.
The issue of river erosion was also discussed in today's meeting. “All required renovation and repair works of dams and bridges would be completed before the onset of the monsoons.
A meeting would be held with the Bhutan government on flood control after the Lok Sabha elections,” the DC said.


Comment by Praful Rao

Way back in the 1980's I have attended one of the above meetings at Jalpaiguri as the IAF (Indian Air Force) representative.
Now with the monsoons right around the corner, I wonder whether a similar meeting has been held at the Darjeeling district level to TRY and PREVENT, CONTROL, MITIGATE and
MANAGE LANDSLIDES ; even as I notice that
i) there is not a word mentioned about landslides in the above report.

ii) new technology for landslide mitigation and prevention is also available but has yet to see the light of day in this part of the world.

ii) there is explicit mention that FUNDS ARE NOT A PROBLEM.

Italics are mine in the above excerpt.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Students take the lead - Inter School Power Point Competition on "Landslide Hazards" - organized by Rotary Club of Kalimpong

The Rotary Club of Kalimpong, comprising of many prominent citizens of the town, has always been proactive as regards raising awareness about landslides. Thus, we held our very first talk on landslides way back in Dec07 (see blog of 07Dec07) at the Rotary Centre in Tapoban, Kalimpong.
On 02 May09, Rotary Kalimpong again took the lead by organizing an Inter- School Power Point Competition on the theme "Landslide Hazards in Darjeeling/Sikkim Himalayas"
STH worked closely with Rtn TK Pradhan (organizer of the event and also Director SSGP School, Kalimpong) in drawing up the suggestions and guidelines for the competition (slide 1) - help in this regard also came from Dr RK Bhandari (former Chairman CDMM, Vellore Institute of Technology and one of the world's leading experts on Geo-Hazards).
STH also coordinated field visits by school children and staff to landslide affected areas so that the presentations were realistic and based on first hand knowledge.
List of participating schools:-
1. St Augustine's School 2. St Joseph's Convent 3. Vrindavan School 4. SUMI School 5. SSGP School 6. Dr Graham's School 7. Rockvale Academy


Comment by Praful Rao
My thanks to Rotary Kalimpong for organizing this event. I would also like to thank the participating schools and also Mr Bishnu Chhetri of Farmer's Club, Kalimpong and Mr Dilip Bhujel of Sindebung for their time and cooperation.

Photo Credits :-
Mr GM Pradhan and Ms Aachal Tamang