Wednesday, August 2, 2000,
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150 feared dead in HP flashfloods
250 houses, 20 bridges washed away; 4 power projects damaged
From Rakesh Lohumi
Tribune News Service

SHIMLA, Aug 1 At least 150 persons were feared dead, 200 head of cattle perished, and property worth over 1000 crore destroyed as unprecedented flashfloods in the Sutlej played havoc along the banks over a 200-km stretch from Namgya in Kinnaur to Tatapani in Mandi district last night.

It was virtually a huge mass of water flowing down the river from the heights of tribal Kinnaur district, wiping out everything which came in the way, and left behind a trail of destruction and misery. The flashfloods lasted for just about four hours but changed the face of the banks permanently. The floods were caused by a cloudburst in Tibet. As per the initial reports the swirling water washed away about 250 houses and 20 bridges, besides causing extensive damage to four power projects, including the Nathpa Jhakri project, and roads. All but three bridges from Khab in Kinnaur to Luri in Mandi district were washed away. An Army camp at Choeling, a Border Road Organisation labour settlement at Old Tapri and an ITBP camp at Karcham were also washed away.

As many as 77 deaths had been confirmed. While 41 persons were killed in Kinnaur, 36 died in Rampur subdivision of Shimla and the Nirmand area of Kulu district. At Choeling 5 Army jawans, 9 women, 12 children and 51 mules were swallowed by the swollen river. A truck was washed away along with the owner and the driver at Khab. While six labourers were killed at Sholding. Another 70 persons were reported missing from Wangtu Karcham, Shanvi and Nirmand.

The entire Kinnaur district, Spiti and Rampur and Jhakri areas were cut off. The maximum devastation had been caused in Kinnaur where collapsed bridges had cut off all subdivisions and blocks. The death toll in Kinnaur could be higher as information regarding damage had just started reaching from the interior.

At Karcham, a police post, a rest house, the office of PWD, a building of the ITBP were washed away. About 30 km stretch of the Hindustan-Tibet road had either been washed away or extensively damaged. At certain places there was no sign of the roads and the river had cut deep into the hill, leaving no scope for construction of a new road.

The road bridges at Khab, Akpa, Riba, Shongtong, Karcham, Tapri and Chora were washed away.

In Rampur proper, 15 deaths were reported, nine persons died at Neogli and 6 at Brow. The hundred-year-old Victoria Bridge at Wazir Bowli was washed away along with the bridges on Nirmand Road, Bayal, Brow, Neogli and Jagaat Khana. While a four-storeyed guest house was destroyed, Bushair Bhavan collapsed partially. Telecom Bhavan and some other private buildings had started sinking. About 80 houses in Neogli and Brow had either collapsed or suffered extensive damage.

According to the residents of Neogli and Jhakri the water level rose by 40 feet to 45 feet for about two hours from 3.30 a.m. during which the damage was caused. They were shaken up from sleep by the roar of the angry river and managed to move to safer places before their houses were washed away.

The 1500 MW Nathpa Jhakri suffered the maximum damage as water level in the river at Jhakri rose abruptly by 30 feet to 35 feet at 3.00 a.m. inundating the underground power house and the tail race tunnel. The total loss had been estimated at Rs 400 crore and the project would be delayed by one year. Mr Arun Gupta, Chairman, NJPC, is flying to the project from Delhi to have first hand information about the damage.

The Chaba Project had to be closed. It would take about two years for repairs and which might cost about Rs 3 crore. Besides, the 126 MW Bhabha Project and the 22 MW Ghanvi Project, which was ready for commissioning, have also been damaged.

In the Tatapani-Sunni area of Mandi district two bridges one connecting Thali and other at Chaba were washed away along with two dhabas and residential houses. The flood water inundated the tourist complex, rest house and a temple. The main bridge on the Luri-Karsog was also damaged.

According to information available here as many as 250 lakh cusecs of additional water had passed through the river at Slapper by noon today. It was still raining in the Kinnaur and Rampur region.

The Chief Minister, Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal, flew to the affected areas along with a team of high-level officials and held a series of meetings with the local officials for carrying out relief and rehabilitation measures. He directed the officials to restore road links on a priority basis since it would take a long time to construct bridges. Ropeways be set up immediately across the river at places where bridges had been washed away. He also directed the officials to reopen all traditional paths which were not being used after the construction of roads. The old Hindustan-Tibet road would also be repaired and made traffic worthy at the earliest.

Talking to newsmen after returning from the tour of the affected areas he said the NH-22, which had been washed away at many places would have to be realigned. He said essential commodities would be supplied by helicopter in Kinnaur and the road via Spiti would be restored at the earliest so that fruit growers could transport out their produce via the Lahaul and the Kulu valley. The government would give subsidy on the additional transportation costs.

Control rooms had been set up at state and district headquarters to monitor the relief and rehabilitation works and also gather information regarding loss. Mr Virbhadra Singh, a former Chief Minister, expressed shock over the unprecedented devastation caused by floods by the Sutlej and urged the government to give priority to restoration of pedestrian bridges and paths which were the lifeline of the hill people. Relief measures should be initiated on a war footing, particularly in the Nirmand and Ani areas of Kulu district on the right bank which have been totally cut off from Rampur. These areas were totally dependent on the subdivisional town for the supply of essential commodities, health care and education.

Mr Shanta Kumar, Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, has also expressed deep sorrow over the calamity which had hit the people of the state and conveyed his sympathies to the victims. He said he would meet the Prime Minister and apprise him of the devastation caused by flash floods and seek financial help, Mr Gulab Singh Speaker, Mr Singhi Ram and Mr Ishwar Das, both legislators, whose constituencies have fallen in the affected area, have expressed shock over the disaster.

Mr A.K. Goswami, Chief Secretary, soon after returning from the affected areas held a meeting of senior secretaries and heads of departments to review the situation and finalise the plan for carrying out rescue and relief work. He listed out various steps to be taken to restore the communication system, electricity, water supply, supplies of essential commodities and medicines.

It was decided that essential commodities and medicines would be airlifted wherever necessary.

It was also decided to constitute a crisis management group consisting of senior officers who will meet daily under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary for day-to-day monitoring of relief and rehabilitation works.

So far 10 bodies have been recovered. The body of a 10-year-child was found hanging from a tree in Pranu village. The bodies of two unidentified Gorkhas were located in Brow, the body of 70-year-old Sant Ram of Moong village in Nirmand was extricated from boulders.

The household goods of most of the residents of Mayapuri village were washed away. Luri was the worst-hit in Rampur.

More than half of the population of the village has been affected. The main bridge connecting Shimla and Kulu districts has been damaged and a cluster of a half dozen houses has been wiped out. In Behna village about 80 families have been affected by the flash flood. The road leading to Ani had been washed away.

The personal belonging like cooking gas refills, furniture, utensils and beddings were seen floating in the river at Slapper 50 to 60 km down steam.
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