‘We had long been asking the authorities to move us to safer locations’Lidi villagers say they knew a disaster was coming as the area weakened by the 2015 earthquakes was experiencing landslides since the start of the monsoon season.
On Friday morning, when her house began to wobble, the first thought that crossed Junmaya Tamang’s mind was an earthquake. Then there was a deafening bang, uncharacteristic of an earthquake, just before her house started shaking violently. She was on the terrace to retrieve the corn kernels she had left to dry and when she heard the noise, her instinct told her to flee. But before she could make a move, a large mass of mud and stones came hurtling down the hill. She was knocked out cold by a stone.
“I can’t remember what happened after that,” said Tamang, 34. “When I opened my eyes, my husband was pulling me out of the rubble.”
She, along with three other survivors, was rushed to Chautara District Hospital.
Eleven people were killed and 27 are still missing after a landslide struck Golche Lidi village in Jugal Rural Municipality-2, Sindhupalchok, on Friday morning. The landslide buried 13 houses.
Five people were severely injured. Tamang was one of them.
Friday’s landslide was a tragedy that was in the making for months, according to Aash Bahadur Dong, another survivor.
“There were foreboding signs for weeks, as small landslides had been breaking out above the village,” said Gurung. “The government didn’t show any concern even after we had notified the authorities.”
The villagers had submitted a memorandum to the District Disaster Management Committee for help on August 7, but it went unheeded.
As monsoon continues, the Tarai region has been battered by floods and the hill districts by landslides.
According to Nepal's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, landslides have killed nearly 200 in the hilly regions across the country since mid-April. Seven have been killed in floods in the Tarai plains.
Sunmaya Tamang, who also survived Friday’s landslide, said if the local authorities had responded to the villagers’ request, the villagers could have survived.
“The local authorities had asked the villagers to relocate to safety, but had not arranged any alternate location,” said Sunmaya. “Where could have the villagers gone?”
Lidi Gaun is a remote village which is two days’ walk from Chautara, the district headquarters. The village got access to electricity and a road network only last year.
Pratap Lama, chairperson of Ward No. 2 of Jugal Rural Municipality, said that his office had asked for help from the provincial and federal governments.
“The latest tragedy is especially lamentable since there were tell-tale signs for the past week,” Lama told the Post. “The area where Lidi is situated was already weakened by the earthquakes of 2015. Geologists had long been warning about the dangers of landslides.”
Thirty-seven households in Lidi have been displaced by Friday’s landslide.
While all of them have been damaged, 13 have been completely destroyed, according to Hom Narayan Shrestha, chief of Jugal Rural Municipality. Shrestha said that the displaced are now relocated to temporary shelters.
Sindhupalchok has been battered by a series of natural disasters over the past decade. The earthquake of 2015, which killed 3,570 and destroyed over 90,000 houses, has made the district’s topography particularly vulnerable to landslides, geologists say.
Multiple landslides in the last three years have displaced around 700 families in the district. The Bhotekoshi flood in 2016 and this year’s floods and landslides also caused many deaths, injuries and displacements in the district.
Until late Friday afternoon, the landslide survivors in Lidi had not received much help from the authorities.
Chief District Officer Umesh Kumar Dhakal said relief efforts were ongoing.
“Forty pieces of tarpaulin sheets, utensils, blankets and mattresses have been ferried to the village via helicopter,” said Dhakal.
Following the incident, a team led by House Speaker Agni Sapkota visited the survivors. Local government officials, ward chief and local leaders accompanied him.
Sunmaya lamented that the government only pays attention to the people living in disaster-prone areas after people have died and their homes obliterated.
“A timely intervention could have prevented the tragedy that happened today,” said Sunmaya. "Had the villagers been relocated to a safer location, there would've been no casualties."