KATHMANDU (NYTIMES) – Landslides set off by heavy rainfall this weekend killed at least 11 people and left many more missing in a hilly region of Nepal that borders Tibet, officials said, bringing a renewed crisis to an area that was hit hard by a devastating 2015 earthquake.
Many locals had only recently rebuilt their homes in a district that since the earthquake has emerged as one of Nepal’s most vulnerable to landslides.
Nepal is also being battered by an economic crisis and widespread unemployment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has left 336 people dead in the country.
As many as 20 people from the village of Barhabise were missing Sunday (Sept 13) after the landslides, which washed away 28 homes in the region Saturday night, leaving rescuers racing to find survivors and dig them out.
“Rescuers are working hard, but rescuing the missing people alive seems impossible,” said Shreedhar Neupane, a press secretary to the speaker of Nepal’s House of Representatives, Agni Prasad Sapkota.
Nepal’s army, the Armed Police Force and residents were mobilized for relief and rescue operations, which have been hampered by inclement weather. Three injured people were taken to a hospital.
The hilly district where the landslides occurred, Sindhupalchok, was badly affected in 2015’s earthquake. Of more than 8,700 people who died in that quake, 3,440 were from the district.
Every year, scores of people living in hillside villages and towns die in landslides. In mid-August, 36 people died after being buried under a huge landslide in the nearby village of Lidi. Thirty-seven homes built on steep slopes were wiped out.
“Cracks developed by the previous earthquakes are now reactivated after this season’s rainfall,” said Basanta Raj Adhikari, an assistant professor of geology at Tribhuvan University of Nepal. “Because of this, people living in risky areas like Sindhupalchok are losing their lives to landslides.”
Adhikari said that fragile mountain geography had been destabilized in the earthquakes and that the use of heavy equipment to build roads on steep slopes had exacerbated the problem.
“Relocating unsafe settlement to safer places is the only way to save the people,” he said.