Nepal valley suffers quadruple disaster

All Photos: Amit Machamasi/Nepali Times

Within six days of the start of the rainy season, the monsoon of 2021 has already caused death and destruction across central Nepal.

Heavy showers continued on Wednesday in one of the worst affected areas 40km northeast of Kathmandu in Melamchi Bazar, where dozens of people are reported missing and infrastructure washed away by flash floods.

Video posts on social media showed walls of muddy water with floating logs and trees rushing down the streets of the town, located at the confluence of Melamchi and Indrawati Rivers.

When this photographer reached the town on Wednesday afternoon, both rivers were still flowing high, heavy with mud and silt.

The rainfall has been unusually heavy in Sindhupalchok district, with some monitoring stations registering above 100mm in the 12 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

Weather satellite radar image showing the monsoonal system with heaviest rain in red, over central Nepal on Wednesday afternoon. DoHM

Also contributing to the high sediment load were mountain slopes destabilised by the 2015 earthquake as well as haphazard road-building, leading to frequent landslides for the past five years.

In addition, boulders and sand banks that would have reduced the velocity of the water in the rivers have been mined and picked clean by construction contractors, making the flood more destructive.

The floodwaters seem to have started right at the upper reaches of the rivers since some of the headworks of the Melamchi Water Supply Project were damaged by the rising waters. Eight workers at the Melamchi project, including three Chinese and three Indians and two Nepalis are said to be missing when the flash flood entered the project site.

Fortunately, the 26.5 km tunnel that brings water to Kathmandu Valley had been closed for testing a few days earlier.

Two highway bridges and three suspension footbridges on Melamchi road were destroyed. Several trout farms and paddy terraces were also washed away. In the Bazar itself, most of the damage could be seen in the new construction on the floodplain of the river.

Geographer Narendra Khanal says the Indrawati River appears to have been blocked by a landslide between 5-6pm on Tuesday evening. The water level monitoring station shows the flow at 4.7m decreasing suddenly to 3m, and then shooting up to 6m at 6:45pm.

"This is an indication that the river was blocked for about 45 minutes about 20km upstream in an area with major landslide after the 2015 earthquake, and suddenly the water burst through," Khanal says. The Indrawati meets the Melamchi just above the Bazar, and the combined flow changed the course of the river, forcing it to disperse over its flood plain.

Radhika Shrestha, Melamchi-11

We live in lower Melamchi near the bridge. I was working in the fields when I got a call from my brother-in-law saying that the river was blocked upstream and to move to higher ground. We ran towards the road that is at a higher level than our house. After a while we saw that the level of water in the river had decreased, so we went home to cook and eat dinner. We were still cooking when we got another warning to leave.

We have eaten biscuits and packaged noodles. We are four people in the family. All our assets have been lost to the flood but we will survive even if we have to beg or do physical labor.

Laxmi Prasad Shrestha, Melamchi-11

Last night, it was the Indrawati river that flooded first. Two hours later, the flashflood in Melamchi destroyed the entire market and houses here.

The police informed us that the flood was coming, so we ran from our houses to higher ground. We are now taking shelter at the school here.

We have lost everything. Our house, the lodge everything was submerged and is now covered in mud. Whatever we had was inside the house and now it is impossible to retrieve. We haven’t thought of the future, we don’t know how we will survive.

Rudra Prasad Dulal, Ward Chief Melamchi 11

Ward number 10 and 11 were worst affected by the flood. Yesterday around 5pm, we received an early warning and we mobilised our team, informed everyone including the security forces. This is the only reason why we didn’t have any casualties in our community.

More than a hundred houses have been inundated in Melamchi. We have rescued four people, with the help of security personnel.

A lot of infrastructure has been destroyed, including bridges and transmission lines.

We have asked one family to stay in one room of the school and are arranging food for them.