Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Announcement : 1st Indian Landslide Congress, 01-02Nov2010, Lucknow, India

I am glad to state that STH will be participating in this Congress by giving a powerpoint presentation on the landslide scenario in the Darjeeling hills and also by sending a collection of photographs of landslides for the photo exhibition.

Praful Rao

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Milestones : Jun2010

1. 03Jun2010 : A meeting with H.E. Shri MK Narayanan, Governor of W. Bengal and Hon. M.P Shri Jaswant  Singh in Darjeeling.

7 members of STH met and apprised the Governor of W Bengal and the M.P of Darjeeling district on the prevailing landslide situation in the district and the need for a holistic, long term strategy to manage and mitigate the hazard.
In addition Mr Zion Lepcha of CHIBO village (a very vulnerable area in the vicinity of Kalimpong town) spoke on behalf of the villagers and submitted a petition to the dignitaries.

2. Completion of Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) work at CHIBO/PASHYOR villages.
STH had commenced CBDRM work in the above landslide prone villages in Jan2010 (see here). I am glad to state that we could :-
  •  Sensitize the villagers about the landslide problem in their area and prepare them to live with the hazard in a more informed way.
  • Train some 11 people in first aid and also provide them some basic first aid equipment (see here).
  • Provide them with some basic rescue equipment in the 2nd week of Jun2010.
  • Establish a rudimentary SMS based early warning system in the village.
3. Featured on Dave's Landslide Blog.
Dr David Petley's (Univ of Durham, UK) landslide blog is an authoritative documentation of landslides occurring all over the world and is read by almost all people working on landslide hazards . 

I am glad to state that STH has again featured on the blog here (see para 6).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rainfall analysis 01- 20 Jun2010 (Darjeeling district)

Average monthly rainfall for the month of June (source) : 495mm
As we move into the third week of Jun2010, the rainfall we have received is well below the average rainfall (see IMD chart above) - yet we have had 3 fatalities in Kalimpong (see here)  and at least 3 major landslides on NH (National Highway) 31A (see here) which links Siliguri-Gangtok and NH55 (Siliguri-Darjeeling) - see here.
Besides this I know that Sikkim has had its own share of landslides which have disrupted water supply to the capital and roads

Praful Rao

Friday, June 18, 2010

Death in the mountains

I attended the funeral and cremation ceremony of  the victims of yesterday's landslide (see here) at the Buddhist Cremation grounds at Tirpai, Kalimpong.
The family had put up photos of the victims (mother, daughter and son) while Tibetan lamas (monks) chanted prayers in the background.

What makes these deaths so senseless is that the landslide could have been wholly prevented with a little attention to the drainage in the area.
But then I am afraid that we will see this costly mistake being repeated ad nauseam all over the Darjeeling Himalayas as the monsoons intensify.

Praful Rao

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The shape and size of landslides to come -17June2010.

As if to prove STH’s grim predictions true, a small landslide occurred at 4.30AM this morning very near my home in Tirpai, Kalimpong – unfortunately small though it was, three people (a mother aged 48yrs old and her daughter, 21yrs and son, 16yrs) lost their lives. The survivors were the father, an aged grandmother and a dog.
The cause of the slide was very apparent, lack of drainage in a densely crowded urban area where very obviously there has been no planned construction.
This reminds me of a letter sent to me by Dr David Petley of Durham University and one of the foremost authorities on landslides :-
"Slide 18I fear that we will see a legacy of landslides in the urban areas of Asia over the next decade as a result of the incredible rate of urbanization in Asia"

And what is most scary is that the monsoons have been exceptionally mild thus far with the district having got 43% deficient rainfall this year (see here) and last evening we had the FIRST of our major thundershowers in June2010 when it rained a total of 45mm over a 12hr period.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pagla Jhora landslide, Kurseong: 16Jun2010

Kurseong June 16: A major landslide occurred at 14 Mile on NH 55 near Pagalajhora in Kurseong, in the morning today.
In this incident, a Darjeeling bound LPG cylinder loaded truck also met with an accident and fell around 500 ft. down in the valley. The road near 14 mile was sinking at the time when the Truck had stopped around 6 am at the spot and realizing debrises were falling underneath the road some gas cylinders were taken off the truck to lighten it but the truck along with the road collapsed 10 to 15 feet below and cracks of nearly 30 meters appeared at the site.
Meanwhile the Toy Train services were also affected between NJP to Kurseong since a lot of boulders have fallen on the tracks and also cracks have appeared at several places underneath the rail tracks.
Following the landslide, the direct connectivity between Siliguri to Darjeeling along the NH55 has been lost.
Presently, all the Siliguri bound vehicles and Darjeeling bound vehicles have been instructed to ply via Pankhabari road and Rohini road.
Mainly the landslide which occurred today has affected heavy vehicles that ply goods from Siliguri to Darjeeling. However local transport that ply tourist and local passengers have not been affected since there are other routes which is used only by light vehicles for passenger transport mainly routes via Mirik, Pankhabari and Rohini.
Meanwhile concerned authorities are visiting the site of the landslide to estimate the damage and cost of repair but presently it is difficult to say when the NH55 and the Toy Train service will resume again but as per the authorities the transport services will be resumed within a week.
Notably, the Pagalajhora region is one place in Darjeeling Hills where such landslides occur every year during the monsoon but so far even after a decade of its maintenance the landslides have yet to stopped so far perennially.

Comment by Praful Rao
Video, photo and report by STH (Kurseong) member, Bhushan Chettri. My thanks to him

Saturday, June 12, 2010

National Highway 31A (Haati Surey rockfall)

Haati Surey is a place which is no stranger to landslides. In 2007, a massive landslide here resulted in National Highway 31A (which links Siliguri to Gangtok) being blocked for over a week.
The above rockfall occurred on 11Jun2010 and I am not too sure how or why it occurred because we are running deficient in rainfall both in May2010 and whatever rainfall we have had till date in Jun2010.
One plausible reason for this rockfall maybe the heavy traffic on NH31A and the consequent vibrations which caused this??
Needless to say this rockfall caused tremendous problems in terms of missed flights, trains, hotel bookings and so on for all us living in this area.
My grateful thanks to Mr Kundan Yolmo for the photographs

Praful Rao

Monday, June 7, 2010

Satellite imagery for dummies

  • Time in all satellite images are given in Z or Zulu or GMT. Please add 5:30h to it to convert it to IST. Also even though the images are updated every 30mins, processing the images takes a little time so the latest images that you see are around 1hr old.
  • The infrared (IR) images provide information about the temperature  of the clouds. The coldest (therefore the tallest) clouds such as cirrus, cumulonimbus appear white whereas the warmer clouds will appear grey.
  • The visible images are the reflection of the solar radiation from the clouds and obviously can only be seen during the day.
  • Meteorologists have to see both the visible and IR images to derive a correct interpretation of the clouding.
  • My own favourite sites for checking the very latest IR images are the US navy site which is here and the IMD Kolkata site which is here
Comment by Praful Rao
My thanks to my good friend and IAF course mate Dr B Nandi (Ph. D), an outstanding meteorologist, for the guidance and help not only for the above article but also whenever I need an expert opinion on meteorological matters.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    Excerpt from the Telegraph of 02Jun2010

    800 tourists evacuated in Sikkim

    Gangtok, June 1: Around 800 tourists returned here safely today, a night after they were stranded by multiple landslides on North Sikkim Highway and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg.
    Heavy rainfall in North Sikkim had triggered at a dozen slides around 8pm yesterday between Kabi and Phengla. Around 100 vehicles bringing tourists to Gangtok from Lachung and Lachen were trapped in the slides.
    Similarly, three vehicles ferrying 29 tourists from Chhangu Lake in East Sikkim were also stranded when a stretch of Jawaharlal Nehru Marg, which is being widened, caved in near 13th Mile. Two slides blocked the road at 17th Mile.
    A team of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim led by its president Paljor Lachungpa attempted to reach the tourists but could not do much. “We reached Phengla last night but the evacuation was difficult because of darkness and falling stones,” said Lachungpa.
    In a joint operation by the government, tour operators and local people, the stranded tourists were provided with snacks, tea and medicines at night and in the morning before they were brought back to Gangtok.
    The visitors appreciated the efforts of the stakeholders of Sikkim Tourism. “It was a unique experience as they (stakeholders) were there to help us. Some of us slept in the vehicle while others were provided with accommodations at local huts or in army barracks,” said Partha Ghosh, a tourist from Calcutta returning from North Sikkim.
    Director of the Border Roads Organisation’s Project Swastik (works) that maintains both the highways C.P. Sharma said traffic on North Sikkim Highway would be restored by the next three-four days while the Gangtok-Nathu-la road would be repaired by this evening or by tomorrow at the latest.
    Water supply hit
    Yesterday’s heavy rainfall also disrupted water supply to Gangtok from the Rathey Chu water source. Three six-inch and one 14-inch pipes were damaged between Rathey Chu and the water treatment plant at Selep tank, officials said.

    Comment by Praful Rao
    The state of Sikkim and Darjeeling district both lie in the most landslide prone parts of the country (see here ). What is worrying about above news is that the monsoons haven't even reached us and these landslides are the result of premonsoon showers.
    With the arrival of the monsoons, a little later this month we will still have 4 months of rain ahead of us.