Thousands flee as landslip blocks Nepal river

THOUSANDS of people fled villages and towns along a mountain river in northwest Nepal yesterday after it was blocked by a landslide that could burst and cause flash floods, officials said.

Susan Sarandon visits an earthquake-damaged village in Nepal. Picture: AP

The landslide created a dam and a lake 1.2 miles long on the Kaligandaki River, said government administrator Yam Bahadur Chokhal.

Residents living on the banks of the river were moved to higher grounds for fear the river could burst and send flash floods through the area north of Beni Bazaar, about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

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Soldiers and police officers were yesterday sent to monitor the river and help and warn the villagers.

Two powerful earthquakes devastated Nepal on 25 April and 12 May , killing nearly 8,700 people and injuring 16,800 others. The quakes and aftershocks also triggered many landslides in the Himalayan nation.

In 2002, dozens of people were killed when an avalanche held back the nearby Seti River, which then burst through the snow blockage and sent water gushing through villages along its banks.

“We have asked villagers along the riverside in these districts to move to safer places,” interior ministry official Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said.

One of Nepal’s largest hydroelectric power plants in the area could be at risk, officials have warned.

Army helicopter were yesterday surveying the area, with troops being sent to siphon off the water from the fast-growing lake. Authorities say large areas could be at risk of flooding if the collected waters burst.

Meanwhile Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon is urging tourists to come to Nepal, where two powerful earthquakes in the last month killed thousands of people and raised concerns that the nation’s vital tourism industry could be seriously hurt.

Sarandon is in Nepal for five days, staying with the famed Kung-fu nuns in a Buddhist monastery and later in an orphanage that was damaged in one of the quakes.

“It is important to emphasise that by the fall, when monsoon ends, people should make their reservations now if they want to help and they want to come and visit because it is very, very important to keep all these jobs alive,” Sarandon said yesterday.

The actress was inaugurating a campaign to build 201 huts for villagers outside of the capital, Kathmandu, who lost their homes in one of the earthquakes.

“I think that would be the next wave – to think of Nepal not as an ongoing disaster, but as a country that has found its way back and has many monuments that haven’t fallen and many beautiful areas that can be still safe to trek,” she said.

Nepal – which boasts eight of the world’s highest mountains – gets about half a million tourists every year, with many coming to trek the Himalayan nation’s scenic mountain trails.