Villagers in India flee flood threat

RESCUE workers in eastern India urgently evacuated tens of thousands of people yesterday after a landslide in neighbouring Nepal blocked a river that threatened to burst its banks and submerge scores of Indian villages.

A Nepalese boy waits in the ruins for news of his missing family. Picture: AP
A Nepalese boy waits in the ruins for news of his missing family. Picture: AP

Authorities in Nepal said there was no hope that more than 150 missing people were still alive after being buried by piles of rocks, mud and upturned trees in Saturday’s landslide in Mankha, about 75 miles east of Kathmandu. Nineteen others are confirmed dead.

The bodies of six women and three children were recovered yesterday afternoon, said Nepal’s Department of Natural Disaster Management.

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But as workers continued to clear the debris, the danger area moved downstream to eastern India, where 125,000 people were in peril.

The landslide blocked a mountain river in Nepal, causing it to back up and form a massive lake that is threatening to overflow and flood the Indian villages.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed right now,” said Aniruddh Kumar, a senior disaster management official in India’s Bihar state. He said it was still not clear how much water might come down from the lake.

Nepal’s army triggered three controlled explosions on Saturday to allow some water to flow out of the lake, but yesterday most of it remained trapped.

Mr Kumar said Bihar state had asked all government doctors and civil officials in threatened areas to cancel holiday plans. Indian soldiers, as well as air force helicopters and jets, were on standby yesterday for relief and rescue operations.

The local government also invoked a law allowing authorities to forcibly evacuate villagers who refuse to leave their homes and property and move to higher ground or government-run relief camps. The government has so far evacuated 60,000 people and set up 120 such camps.

The annual monsoon season is vital for the largely agrarian economies of South Asia but also brings floods and landslides that kill thousands and submerge hundreds of villages.

Meanwhile, more than 500 foreign tourists and their guides were rescued after the landslide blocked a major highway, leaving them stranded in a border town. Officials said more than 400 hikers and guides were picked up by helicopters and brought to Kathmandu on Sunday and another 200 people were evacuated yesterday.

This is peak trekking season in Tibet, with thousands of tourists annually visiting the region.