31 Oct - 6 Nov 2014 #730

Hudhud and the Himalaya

This is an abridged version of the quick deficiencies analysis by Project Himalaya

A huge and powerful cyclone with a 2000 km diameter hit the east coast of India on 12 October and then travelled inland, dumping huge quantities of rains and snow on the Himalaya, trashing the Annapurna area in particular. About 50 people died directly as a result, a third of them foreign trekkers and the rest local guides, porters and trekking crew. All these deaths should have been prevented, but here are some lessons learnt about why they weren’t.

  • There was significant forewarning (free, readily available info) and enough time to act
  • There are offices capable of advising/controlling trekkers and guides either side of Thorung La
  • There was a rehearsal for Hudhud last year with Cyclone Phailin on the exact same dates
  • Few Nepalis know what a cyclone is or understand the implications
  • The culture is more reactive/fatalistic rather than proactive
  • The Thorung La trail is not marked with poles
  • Partial failure of the Thuraya satellite SMS-email network under disaster load

Deaths were caused by:

  • avalanches (don’t trek while it is snowing hard)
  • hypothermia (take shelter or huddle protectively)
  • carbon monoxide poisoning (don’t run trekking stoves without ventilation)
  • an unmarked route (the most popular teahouse alpine pass trekking routes should be marked, at minimum)
  • inexperienced guides
  • bad advice from lodge managers
  • lack of info given to guides, porters and solo trekkers

What should be done?

At minimum, Nepal desperately needs

  • a new style of three day weather forecasts, farmer focused
  • a severe weather warning mechanism
  • education on lightning strike deaths
  • daily updated weather forecasts and trail conditions on conservation area and national park notice boards
  • reopen national park sub-offices (for wildlife protection and info) and boost morale
  • durable, comprehensive marking of popular alpine trails, particularly passes
  • labelling of trails junctions in all conservation and national park areas
  • relax low power walkie talkie rules
  • Ncell to work out SMS message service with Thuraya service
  • Graded trek guide training with basic and advanced, up to mountain leader standard
  • Reliable government weather forecasting, and early warning to trekkers
  • ACAP to provide any advice whatsoever despite having checkposts
  • TAAN to do anything useful in early warning
  • TIMS permit system to be of any use whatsoever before or after

Where did people die?

  • Four died when an avalanche hit them near Phu in Manang
  • Many on the Thorung La route between the top of the pass and the first lodges from both avalanches and hypothermia
  • Near the Niwas La, seven of the trek crew died of carbon monoxide poisoning in kitchen tent
  • Others near the same route from Upper Dolpo to Jomsom
  • At Dhaulagiri BC while on climbing expedition
  • Langtang region from avalanche

Extracted with permission from Project Himalaya.


Read also:

Better safe than sorry, Editorial

Walking with the times, Kunda Dixit

Mulde Peak, Kunda Dixit

Post-mortem of a tragedy, Editorial

After the storm, Kunda Dixit

Go tell in on the mountain, Subina Shrestha

Dangerous business, Editorial

Man made disasters, Editorial