Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Photographic record of the impact of GLOF on parts of Teesta valley between Teesta Bazar and NHPC's Teesta Low Dam Project (TLDP)III - 22Oct2023


After NH10 from Teesta bazar towards Siliguri and Teesta - Darjeeling road was declared open for light vehicles (with restrictions in timings) on 21Oct2023, I made a trip to check the impact of the GLOF in areas shown below:
An enlarged map of impacted areas and corresponding photos of Teesta bazar are given.

The road to Tribeni (27° 4' 4.986" N, 88° 25' 38.13", 229m) - Photo1.

The road is covered by a blanket of sand almost 10-15 feet thick and a lonely excavator had dug this canal through it. On 22Oct2023, I could barely walk a few hundred meters before coming to a dead end.

Where these children frolicked, there were 8 homes which got swept away on 04Oct2023. I talked to Mrs Pushpa Subba (seen above) who said her home was cracked at many places and the river now was so much closer than  earlier (27° 3' 58.71" N, 88° 25' 34.038" E, 220m) - Photos 2/3.
Meet Simran, 25yrs old as she guards what could be recovered from her house. She and her family of 5 had to abandon their home and shift to this relief center where 3 other families are staying. She said that the cracks on the floor and walls were not so huge a few days ago - now the 'river was pulling it down'.
This entire area in Teesta bazar seems to be sinking. (27° 3' 41.49" N, 88° 25' 28.818" E, 236.6m) - Photo 4.
Teesta river is now running so close to populated parts of Teesta bazar that it is difficult to distinguish safe from unsafe areas. These two above are areas close to the Teesta bridge and definitely in high danger zones ( 27° 3' 23.484" N, 88° 25' 29.922" E, 218.8m) - Photos 5/6.
The road from Teesta to Darjeeling which was submerged just a few days ago. Now with the waters receding a bit and also no dams operating, engineers have cleared the road for vehicular traffic. Notice how perilously close the river is to the road. My thought is always on how safe will these roads and especially NH10 be in the monsoons of 2024 and in the years ahead? (27° 3' 14.208" N, 88° 25' 33.312" E, 196.8m) - Photo7/8.


NH 10: Teesta - Likhu Bhir - Baluakhani (29th Mile) section
This portion of NH10 faced the brunt of the GLOF and is also the portion where the level of the road is closest to the river. Though NH10 has now been opened for light vehicles and between 6am to 6pm, the condition of the road is still precarious at many places and a fast flowing silt laden Teesta river is gnawing at the base of the road relentlessly.
This results in chunks of the road suddenly collapsing into the river. Also parts of the road are cracked and subsiding at many places, which maybe the reason for not allowing heavy vehicular traffic.
When I was young (and when there were no dams around!), Likhu Bhir used to be the most active and troublesome landslide on the Siliguri- Kalimpong route (NH31 then) but for decades the slide was dormant and never a problem to NH10 users. It is a pity that the slide has been activated by the GLOF.
Coordinates 👆:
27° 2' 11.058" N, 88° 25' 38.58" E, 240.4m
Traffic on NH 10 near Likhu Bhir on the day the highway was opened.
The major landslide on NH 10  at 27th Mile and our bane for years, mercifully remained stable during the GLOF (Coordinates 👆 27° 0' 59.298" N, 88° 26' 13.062" E, 765.60m)
Unimaginable amount of sand and debris which the GLOF has dumped every where.

Geil Khola (Coordinates 27° 1' 45.168" N, 88° 25' 40.53" E, 215.1m)
Geil khola from the opposite hill
Chand Adhikari who works for an IRCON contractor stayed in this rented home with 12 other workers. He is standing on what used to be a dining room for them. The GLOF buried everything and they have been told not to excavate for fear of army explosives which maybe buried in the sand.
Mr Ashok Gurung (42yrs) a resident of Geil never believed such a thing would ever happen, having seen many instances where the Teesta flooded areas in Geil Khola. He said they received alerts from friends and relatives from 2am/04Oct2023 and the floods hit them at 4.00am. Between 4 to 4.30 everything they had was gone. He stands above his village where 11 homes are buried by the flooding.
Adding misery to the miserable - villagers homes buried by the GLOF at Geil Khola.


NHPC Teesta Low Dam Project (TLDP) III (Coordinates 27° 0' 10.554" N 88° 26' 29.316" E 205.3m)
The debris that the floods brought sits below the NHPC power plant.Sand being excavated from in front of the TLDP III power station. I wonder how much of the pondage of this and other dams has been filled up by the unimaginable amount of silt and debris the river brought on 04Oct2023 and still continues to bring down.

Bangay bustee (Coordinates 26° 59' 59.028" N 88° 26' 35.34" E 194.3m)
Bangay bustee sits at the confluence of the Relli and Teesta rivers and on 04Oct2023, the entire village comprising of 19 houses went under water. Unfortunately, I could not cross over to the village on 22Oct2023, since the Relli river is still over flowing the bridge.
Mounds of sand being excavated from homes at Bangay village on 22Oct2023.


Having visited most places south of Rangpo which were affected by the GLOF from South Lhonak Glacier on 04Oct2023, I am truly humbled by what I saw.
It was surely a once in a lifetime event where a massive lake burst its banks high up in the Himalayas and led to another huge artificial lake bursting (Sikkim Urja dam) at Chunthang. Together, it released a wall of water almost 15 feet high which I am sure no dam authority or people along the Teesta valley were prepared for. As a result several dams downstream are non-functional today and the level of the Teesta river has gone up by 10-15 feet at places. We were lucky that despite more sophisticated early warning systems failing, the cell phone system worked in the pouring rain and the police together with community messages helped in evacuating large numbers of people to higher ground. Thousands more could have perished.

Yes, we were lucky - this time.
I hope these images will bear testimony to what was one of the most dangerous and large disaster events of recent times.
My thanks to all the affected people for speaking to us and sharing their experiences, thanks also my young friend, Praveen of Junkeri Studios for the earlier two episodes and everyone else who made this reporting possible.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, October 22, 2023

GLOF from South Lhonak Glacier: Excerpts and images from a scientific paper of 2021 and satellite images of Oct2023 from NRSC of affected areas.

The GLOF from South Lhonak glacier in North Sikkim on 04Oct2023, impacted many areas of Sikkim as well as Kalimpong district in W Bengal GLOF. STH has blogged about this is several (recent) previous blogs.

An excerpt from a scientific study done on the South Lhonak Glacier and  published in 2021 is placed below:

Images (from the above paper) also show the growth of Chunthang town over the years and other areas which were at risk.
Satellite images from NRSC

Can't say there was no warning - just that no one listened or believed.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya

Saturday, October 21, 2023

STH stormwatch : LOW pressure in the Bay of Bengal.

SaveTheHills Stormwatch is a series where we track and report on significant weather developments in our region not only to forewarn our communities (which we largely do today through our WhatsApp Group 'Hazard Alerts 1& 2') but keep a record of the event.
As on 20Oct2023, a low pressure formed in the central Bay of Bengal which is likely to intensify into a depression by 22Oct and move towards the Bangladesh and West Bengal coasts by 24Oct2023.
The Darjeeling-Sikkim region has just seen catastrophic flooding and destruction in the 04Oct2023 GLOF from South Lhonak glacier and being located barely 600kms from the Bay of Bengal any major storm in the north Bay will probably impact our region and which would hamper all reconstruction activities and make lives of those who have lost everything even more difficult.

Update on 22Oct2023

IMD has posted to its first forecast track (above) on the probable path of the storm

Update 24Oct2023: Cyclone 'HAMOON' is born
JTWC's forecast track
IMD latest forecast track

Kolkata reported moderate rainfall for sometime on 23Oct2023, but largely the storm seems to be keeping clear of the city.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Photographic record (18Oct2023) of Geil khola section of NH10 - post Lhonak Glacier GLOF.

One of the main casualties of the devastating Lhonak glacier GLOF on 04Oct2023 was the road communications and that too mainly the impact of the floods on NH10 which is the lifeline for the landlocked, mountain state of Sikkim and of Kalimpong district in W Bengal. Of the approx 114km distance from Siliguri to Gangtok, 65kms of NH10 winds itself along the banks of the Teesta.
More than two weeks after the GLOF of 04Oct2023 which shredded the highway at many places the road communications from Gangtok to Siliguri along NH10 has not been restored till date - neither the state highway which connects Darjeeling to Teesta Bazaar.

On 18Oct2023, I photographed the above section of NH10 from the sheer cliffs of Kalimpong district which overlook the highway from the opposite hill - with the intention of preserving the images of what was an extraordinary event for us living in this region.
The above image of Oct 2021 shows a very active landslide (A) at 29th Mile on NH10 (27 01.013N 088 26.087E) and Bangay bazar (B) on the banks of the Teesta.
Telephoto Image of NHPC's TLDPIII and parts of Bangay bazar on 18Oct2023, submerged by the GLOF. Dam operations on TLDPIII has been stopped by the local political party (GTA) for the time being. Do notice the width of the Teesta river and the color of its water which indicates it is still loaded with silt.
                                       A very active 29the Mile landslide zone in 2021.
This year the 29th Mile landslide remained stable even during the GLOF period.
Close up view of the same area on 18Oct2023. The huge mounds of sand on the right bank indicate river levels during the GLOF. NH10 also appears to have been eroded at places.
Likhu Bhir (27 02.181N 088 25.661E) was the most serious landslide on this route decades ago (see image below). After being relatively stable for years, it was reactivated by the GLOF. One can see trucks carrying construction material plying over the slide.
Geil khola (27.028965N 088.427644E) was one of the places which was hit by the GLOF of 04Oct2023. Notice the partly buried homes on the river bank. The District Administration has set up a relief camp at Geil Khola.
Geil khola and its surroundings on 18Oct2023.
Geil Khola - Likhu bhir section of NH10 on 18Oct2023.
It seems ironic that the Kalimpong element of Darjeeling Himalaya Railways (DHR) which used to operate the narrow gauge train from Siliguri to Geil Khola, discontinued its Kalimpong operations after the 1950 disaster in our region.
Damage to DHR tracks in Darjeeling by the June 1950 disaster (photo kind courtesy Das Studio, Darjeeling)
File photo of the Geil Khola - Teesta Bazaar section of NH10 in May 2017.
The same section of the road after the GLOF - notice the level and size of the Teesta river and the many places eroded on NH10.
This place is in the vicinity of the Teesta bridge. The erosion of the road along the banks of the Teesta can be seen here.
Will the NHPC TLDP III dam operations under circumstances where the level of the river has now risen significantly affect NH10?
Also the safety of the thousands of vehicles which will ply on the highway when it is reopens and especially during the monsoons of 2024 are questions which need to be pondered upon.

Praful Rao
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling Sikkim Himalaya