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Race against time to beat Kosi fury

Safety scurry amid spectre of flood

People moving to safety after the 2008 Kosi floods

Patna, Aug. 2: The government today scurried to evacuate people living in eight districts along the river Kosi with a wall of water expected to come gushing down from Nepal following a landslide in the Himalayan republic on Friday night.

The landslide in Nepal’s Sindhupalchok district, about 100km north of Kathmandu and around 260km from the Bihar-Nepal border, has created an artificial lake on the river Sunkosi, a tributary of the Kosi. This has resulted in damming of the river. Once the authorities in Nepal blast the debris, the water is expected to come sweeping down into Bihar within 14 hours.

Over 1.5 lakh people, including nearly 50,000 settled around the river Kosi in Supaul, Saharsa and Madhepura districts, are being evacuated to relief camps. Other districts that face the spectre of flash floods are Araria, Madhubani, Purnea, Khagaria and Bhagalpur.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who begins a two-day tour of Nepal tomorrow, has asked the Union home ministry to coordinate with the Bihar government and provide it all assistance to deal with the situation.

Bihar’s principal secretary, disaster management, Vyasji said the government had also sought the help of the army in evacuating 1.5 lakh people in the eight districts. The central government, Vyasji said, has despatched seven additional companies of the NDRF from Calcutta to help its eight companies deployed in Supaul, Madhepura and Saharsa districts.

“We have sent our own team of engineers and officials to the site where the Bhote Kosi (another name for the Sunkosi), a major tributary of the river Kosi, has been blocked due to an enormous landslide, damming the river and resulting in massive accumulation of water. The team will immediately inform us when the Nepal army blasts the debris to free the river,” Vyasji said.

“Central Water Commission estimates tell that 14 lakh cusec water has accumulated at the landslide site, while the Indian embassy in Nepal has informed our National Disaster Management Authority about the accumulation of 25 lakh cusec water there. In both cases it is a huge amount of water,” said Vyasji.

Vyasji, quoting experts, said that 40 per cent of the water would gush down the Kosi and flow into Bihar. Disaster management experts say the floodwater is expected to travel for around eight hours in Nepal and another six hours in India once the artificial dam is breached.

“We have ordered that the gates of the Birpur barrage (on the India-Nepal border in Supaul) be kept open to deal with the sudden rise in the water level of the Kosi. The capacity of this barrage is 8 lakh cusec,” he said.

Vyasji said the government is also concerned about any damage to the western embankment of the Kosi that falls in Bihar and damage to the Birpur barrage in case heavy water is discharged at once. “We have asked the Nepal government to make small holes in the blockage at the landfill site to prevent any damage either to the river embankment or the barrage,” said Vyasji.

By afternoon, the Nepal army had triggered at least one blast in order to create a breach in the artificial dam and discharge some water. Government officials in Kathmandu said the artificial dam is being breached in “a controlled manner”.

“We are expecting that the Nepal government would not trigger the blasts during the night as it would be difficult to take relief measures in the dark. Also, we are taking all possible measures assuming that the blasts have already happened at the landslide site in Nepal,” said Vyasji.

In August 2008, a breach in an embankment at Kushaha in Nepal had resulted in one of the worst floods of Bihar. The river changed its course, killing hundreds of people and displacing over 30 lakh people. The report of the judicial commission that inquired into the 2008 Kosi deluge was tabled in the Assembly yesterday after almost six years.


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