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The Sunkosi disaster site – a month after

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
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On the pre-dawn hours of 2 August exactly a month ago, a whole mountainside swept down on the village of Jure, burying at least 156 people (almost a third of them children) under tons of rock and rubble. The entire side of the hill on the western bank of the Sunkosi between Mankha and Ramche VDCs fell off at 3 AM that morning, disappearing the old village on the slope as well as the settlement along Arniko Highway further down.  One entire government secondary school was wiped out. On the edges of the landslide one can observe only the devastation’s periphery, because most of the people, livestock, houses and highway lie deep underneath.

There is a term in the Nepali language to indicate landslides that dam up rivers, ‘bishyari’ rather than the more generic ‘pahiro’, and this indicates the regularity of these occurrences over historical time in the high Himalaya and midhills. The tragedy of these events are heightened in modern times because of highways that snake along the base of river valleys beneath unstable slopes, and the ‘ribbon development’ that has people in search of livelihood settling along the roadways.

On 30 August, in the company of Ani Choying Drolma, we visited the dammed up Sunkosi area where Jure village used to be. It was a numbing experience, to understand the scale of the landslip and the tragedy it brought the sleeping inhabitants of the village and roadside settlement. We present here some photographs of the site of the ‘mountain-slide’.

Coming up the road from Lamosangu, this scene is typical of the generally unkempt roadsides along Nepal’s highways

Coming up the highway from Lamosangu, this scene is typical of the generally unkempt roadsides along Nepal’s highways. But then, right around the corner…

With Ani in Sindupalchok

… is this view of the landslide, which is about a kilometer long and nearly as tall. It buried both settlements and a stretch of Arnico Highway, blocked the Sunkosi, and created a lake stretching 3 km upstream. The excavator in the picture is part of the effort by those involved in the Nepal-China trade (through Khasa) working with the Roads Department to cut a dangerous track across the landslide debris field so that goods and passenger traffic can resume. The Nepal Army is building a longer track on the hillside across the Sunkosi.

On the edges of the landslide, where some of the concrete-pillar houses are still standing, we saw this orphaned CD collection with the leaf turned to Phalguni Pathak.

On the edges of the landslide, where some of the concrete-pillar houses are still standing, we saw this orphaned CD collection with the leaf turned to Phalguni Pathak. Chinese tourists are brought across the landslide area by porters/guides who are arranged by a network of ‘facilitators’ that has quickly come up. Indian pilgrims headed for Kailas-Manasarover traverse the other way. Chinese tourists are brought across the landslide area by porters/guides who are arranged by a network of ‘facilitators’ that has quickly come up. Indian pilgrims headed for Kailas-Manasarover traverse the other way. Jure 5

Shredded high tension wires can be seen along the terraces and forests. The national electricity grid has lost about a tenth of its production due to the landslide. Jure 6

The picture shows the scale of the ‘mountain-slide’. Where Ani Choying Drolma and Shanta Dixit are traversing is about where Jure village is said to lie, deep under tons and tons of rock.Jure 7 Jure 7-A

The rapids and the midhill tranquility at the outflow point of the Sunkosi lake… One gets to understand the energy of flowing water even better when confronted with this over-topping of the suddenly-created landslide lake. Jure 8 Jure 9

The Sunkosi lake and rapids has become a spot for photography.

Jure 10

The team of Nepal Army engineers has been working away to develop an alternative channel and reduce the lake level. They use dynamite and excavators, one of them seen at the far side. The level of the lake is said to be steadily decreasing.

Jure 11

The alternate channel is muddied by the army’s excavation work upstream. The scouring of the hillside on the far side indicates the volume and energy of the 2 August event. The landslide that came down the western bank reached far up the eastern side before collapsing on the valley floor. On the far bank, the hillside has been scoured, trees felled or bared, and the forest far above splattered with mud and rubble. Massive rocks traveled hundreds of meters through the air to land beyond the landslide footprint.

Jure 12

Gigantic rocks have come down from the mountain. The scale can be judged with reference to the policeman at right.

Jure 13

It is the end of the workday, police/army personnel and civilians working at the disaster site head out. The rock at the left is one of those that flew through the air to land here on the night of 2 August.

Turning the bend on the road and arriving at the disaster site.

A 360 degree view of the Sunkosi rapids, rock dam, landslide slope and surrounding hillsides.

Shanta Dixit and Kanak Mani Dixit

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