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Leh Flashfloods Update , August 10th

August 10, 2010


The official death toll remains at 145 . Media mentions two French casualties , but there are some unclear points : they are not posted on the list of deceased at leh.nic.in , and there are no mentions of it in French media , at least with the names given by the ITBP .

Weather forecast is bleak , a severe weather warning from IMD for Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir talks of heavy rainfall the next 48 hours. The Kargil district weather forecast talks of massive rainfall in the coming five days , culminating in 72 millimeters of rain on August 14th : don´t even think of this route this week.

The first first hand reports have also started to appear :

I was staying at a guest house in old town Leh. The rain came down so hard that I first thought hail was banging against my windows. I soon heard shouting in the streets. I grabbed my flashlight (no electricity in Leh at this point) and went out to the balcony to see that the ground floor of my guest house was filling with water. A neighbor and I went to wake up the owner and the other guests to warn them of the danger. The owner and his family frantically tried to blockade the door with a sheet of zinc and sandbags to prevent more water from entering the building.

The water continued to rise as we tourists tried to quickly pack our most important belongings in the rain and darkness. The neighbors kept shouting for us get out of the house. I couldn’t understand why at the time. My instinct in a flash flood was to climb upstairs as high as possible. I only understood the next day, that the houses in Ladakh are often not built to withstand a cloudburst like this and that the neighbors were afraid the roof or the house itself might collapse. The water rose to about 4 feet at its deepest in the street, and about 2 1/2 feet in the guesthouse before the heavy rain stopped and the water began to recede. Locals said that they had never seen rain like this in 75years.

It was only the next morning that the scope of the devastation became gradually apparent. All stores were closed and people began to move en masse to the the worst hit area of the bus station that was flattened by mudslides. When I arrived at mid-morning, 4 bulldozers were at work removing heavy debri. Along side them, hundreds of volunteers, both locals and many tourists, formed human chains to remove dirt and debri by hand, hoping that they might find survivors underneath the mud. Unfortunately, in the time that I was working there, only bodies were pulled out.

Some roads were covered in mud and debri. The airport was closed, there was no electricity, and only one cellphone company was working. Most of the town was still largely intact though and tourists wandered the streets trying to find open restaurants and gathering in groups to share information. By Friday afternoon several cyber cafes had opened and very slow internet (via satellite) was available.

That first day, (Friday August 6th) there was little sign of government or military presence in Leh. (There were places I didn’t go such as the hospital or makeshift morgue, however, where they may have been present). With a lack of any clear authority or organizing force, rumors and fear abounded. The skies over the mountains were dark and stormy on late Friday afternoon and a rumor spread that another flash flood was coming. People began to run and drive in a panic trying to find high ground. It’s easy to understand why. Given the death toll the night before, nerves were shattered.

The news media arrived in Leh and Choglamsar on Saturday August 7th along with some aid and a more visible military presence. As of today (Sunday August 8th), however, there has been little news of the fate of people in the villages. Trekkers hiking into Leh, report seeing bodies of local people at the mudslides and I fear the death toll will be significant.

Dozens, maybe hundreds of tourists were also trapped by the floods in the villages and mountains. Efforts have been underway to rescue foreign nationals who are still stranded. I’ve heard unconfirmed (again unconfirmed, only third-hand) accounts that a small number of foreign trekkers may have been injured and/or killed. Those trekkers who were able to hike back to Leh have some harrowing stories to tell. What started out as a fun holiday trek, turned into a life-threatening ordeal in the space of just an hour of rain.

( from a long thread at IndiaMike )

Leh photo , showing the area between the old and new bus stand , and main street in Choglamsar from Associated Press. Air photo ( looks like the area between Leh and Shey , close to the Dalai Lama´s house ) from the Indian Army .

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