May 2: Landslide claimed its first victims of the season when a concrete wall collapsed on a house, killing a woman and her three-year-old son on Narakasur hill in Kahilipara last night.
Bhaben Kalita, a trader who had built his house after cutting into the hill on Krishna Kanta Handique Path, had constructed the 20-foot wall three months ago to prevent soil from being washed away.
A few metres from the wall, stood the tin-roofed house of Anil Saikia, a driver.
Residents complained that the base of the wall was not deep enough and hence it collapsed after the heavy downpour last night and trapped Saikia’s house down the hill, killing his 35-year-old wife, Anita, and son Krishna.
“With the entire weight of the house on the cut area, it isn’t a surprise that the soil loosened, creating unnatural weight on the retaining wall, which finally gave way,” said a neighbour of the Saikias.
The incident highlighted yet again how haphazard cutting of hills was making the soil loose, leading to erosion and landslides during the rainy season.
Official records said among natural disasters, landslide has caused the maximum loss of lives in the city. Over 120 people have died in landslides between 1993 and 2011.
“We were watching TV after dinner and suddenly there was power cut because of rain and strong wind. I went out to the veranda for a while and my mother was sleeping inside. Suddenly, I heard a thud and found the wall collapsing on our house. I shouted and ran out. I managed to bring out my elder sister Dharitri but there was no response of my mother and younger brother Krishna. I cried for help and locals came rushing but my mother was already dead. My brother died while we were taking him to hospital,” Ankur told The Telegraph today.
Ankur and Dharitri received minor injuries.
Saikia, a pick-up van driver, was out for work when the wall collapsed.
“I received a call around 11pm. Though I came rushing, they were already dead. When the wall was constructed, I had asked Kalita to make the base strong so that it does not collapse easily but they did not listen to us,” he said.
Kalita, however, said the wall collapsed after soil got loosened in last night’s downpour and water came gushing down the hills.
Experts, however, blamed the unscientific cutting of hills for construction of houses for the annual incidents of landslides during the monsoon.
“Earth-cutting is the prime cause of erosion on the city hills. Chemical composition of the soil in our hills is such that it is rock hard when there is no rain and becomes loose when it pours. So, we do not only have to stop cutting the hills but also take up measures such as constructing houses on platforms without disturbing the natural structure and slopes of the hills, to ensure that the flow of water is not obstructed,” a faculty of geography at Cotton College, Pradip Sharma, said.
The need of the hour is to construct houses the way it is done in the hill states like Meghalaya, where houses are built on platforms that are raised without disturbing the hill, said S.K. Doloi, general secretary of Save Guwahati Build Guwahati, an NGO.