Saturday, October 24, 2020

Amazing storm activity in the Bay of Bengal in Oct2020

 Although we had minimal rain thus far in Oct 2020, the Bay of Bengal saw a cauldron of activity with numerous storms forming and moving towards peninsular India giving record breaking rainfall in Hyderabad.


Earlier, we reported and tracked these storms regularly in this blog in a series called 'STH Stormwatch' but now since we use a WhatsApp group (Hazard Alerts) to disburse information on storms we have discontinued the series.
However, in the interest of recording some of these storms and tremendous activity that took place in the Bay of Bengal I am placing a collage of images and information on the subject most of which we used in 'Hazard Alerts'.
To a lay person like me, I was surprised to find that many of the weather systems in the Bay which affected us had there genesis in massive tropical storms which brewed up in the Pacific and swept across Indo-China. The remnants of these storms intensified in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian sea.

 Weather chart of that time and satellite imagery of the activity in the Bay of Bengal is placed below:

Almost the same scenario was repeated around 20Oct except that the depression which formed off the coast of Odisha/Andhra Pradesh tracked NNE and gave heavy rain to the north eastern states and Bangladesh


As I write Typhoon 'SAUDEL' has formed in the South China Sea and will again move westwards and by the next week MAY form yet another low pressure in the Bay

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Rainfall data of some towns in the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya (SEP2020)

Heavy rain on saturated soil, compounded by human interference did give us more than our share of landslides in Sep2020.
They are documented here ( 12 )

Praful Rao with Shreya Gurung
Kalimpong district
Darjeelilng-Sikkim Himalaya

Friday, October 2, 2020

Arubotay - a village under threat of extinction from Landslides

Till yesterday, neither I nor anyone had heard of a tiny, obscure village called ARUBOTAY (which literally translates into 'Place of Plum Trees'). It is located in Majua GP, Block Office Bijanbari of Darjeeling district and if it doesn't grow plums, what it does grow is thousands of tons of squash.
Yes! agriculture is the mainstay and livelihood of people in Arubotay - that, along with tourism.
A few days ago I received a call from a friend asking me to visit the village and check the landslide situation there. I did that with STH member Ms Shreya Gurung and Mr Christopher Lepcha of Anugyalaya, a Darjeeling based Roman Catholic NGO.

A report:

1. Location : 27.01843N 088.14789E. Elevation: 1356m

2. Brief history of the landslide
I talked to several people of Arubotay who told me that the initial cracks and fissures had appeared on the hillock during the Sikkim earthquake of 18Sep2011 but many remarked their area was stable even during the mega-disaster of Oct 1968.
Thereafter, the region had remained more or less unscathed during the many intervening years . In 2020 however, the cracks had started 'growing' as early as July following heavy rain. One must note that there is also a fast flowing mountain river (Chota Rangit) below the Sacred Heart School, on the eastern flank of the hill. 
3. Landslide time and date:
The major landslide on the eastern face of the Arubotay ridge line and near the Sacred Heart School occurred at around 11.30pm on 23Sep2020, thereafter it continued on 24/25 Sep2020, when most of the instability and sinking in the village occurred. The landslide continues to be active even now.

Other data on the slide
a. Probable cause : Heavy rain and also erosion by mountain stream on the eastern flank
b. Size : Very large
c. Damage to property etc:
   i. The Sacred Heart School at Arubotay is being demolished since it is unsafe.
  ii. Around 26 homes totally damaged and 10 homes partially damaged
  iii. Loss of farmland - around 20 acres.
  iv. Road communication from Maneybhanjyang to Jorethang (Sikkim) has been cut
d. In all probability most of those who have lost their homes will have to be relocated as the mitigating or controlling the landslide appears impossible.

4. Rainfall data

Detailed rainfall records of our region are available in the STH blog. Day wise rainfall record of Sep2020 will be published in a week.
4. About Sacred Heart School
The new Sacred Heart School building donated by a Luxemburg NGO was inaugurated in 2011 and was run by the Roman Catholic Diocesan trust at Arubotay. The school was functional from much earlier and had 57 students, mostly from around the area, enrolled in 2020.
The building is being DEMOLISHED today.

Update 1
On 10Oct2020, the District Magistrate, Darjeeling accompanied by the GTA Chairman (seen above), visited the ARUBOTAY landslide area and among other things discussed the possible relocation of affected people. We also know that the GSI will be send their officials for a study of the area in a few days.
Update 2 (25Oct)
Two geologists from GSI visited the area around mid Oct2020 and have filed their report to the Darjeeling district administration, based on which the BDO Pulbazar has issued a notice for relocation of the residents of Arubotay. 

Our thanks to the community of Arubotay for their time and help during our visit yesterday and my sincere gratitude to Bishop Stephen Lepcha for his initiative and help.
Update 2
I received this letter from the Bishop, yesterday (16Jun2021):

Report by Praful Rao and Shreya Gurung