KATHMANDU : A massive landslide Saturday in Nepal’s northeast left at least eight people dead and dozens missing as officials worked to clear debris blocking a major river and avert the possibility of flash floods.
The landslide struck in the early hours, burying two dozen homes before dumping mud and stones into the Sunkoshi river, northeast of capital Kathmandu, Prakash Adhikari, press adviser to the prime minister, told AFP. Police and army officials retrieved eight bodies and airlifted 16 injured people to safety.
‘Dozens more are still missing, we are trying to find them,’ said home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal. Ten Nepalese and a 46-year-old Belgian national injured in the landslide were flown to Kathmandu for medical treatment, police said.
Debris from the landslide created a 110-metre (120-yard) deep lake, measuring at least three kilometres by 300 metres, which flooded two power stations and a hydropower plant before workers partially cleared the blockage.
‘We have been successful in allowing the water to flow slowly from the blocked area at its natural pace by carrying out small explosions,’ government disaster management head Yadav Prasad Koirala said. ‘This has minimised danger in the upper reaches of the river, but lower areas (below the blockage) are still at risk,’ Koirala told AFP, adding the evacuation of people near banks would continue until the situation was under control.
Army officials were expected to conduct more small blasts to clear the debris from the area termed a ‘flood-crisis zone’ by the government. A police official at the disaster scene said electricity lines had snapped, leaving hundreds without power. ‘We have shut down the Sunkoshi hydropower project due to flooding, another transmission tower has also been damaged,’ said Arun Rajoria, deputy general manager of Himal Hydro, which built the plant.
Home ministry spokesman Dhakal told AFP a portion of the Arniko Highway, which connects the Himalayan nation with Tibet, had been closed. Meanwhile, officials partially opened the Koshi barrage near the India-Nepal border, to allow water to flow downstream and reduce flood risks. Scores of people die every year from flooding and landslides during Nepal’s monsoon season. At least 75 people were killed in separate incidents last year when heavy rains triggered floods that struck homes in the country’s remote hilly western region and southern plains. Nepal’s landslide came as more than 150 people were feared dead in neighbouring India following a landslide which destroyed a village in western Maharashtra state earlier in the week.