Residents stand along the banks of the overflowing Melamchi River following heavy monsoon rains in Sindhupalchok district of Nepal on June 16. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)
At least 10 people were feared dead in Nepal and another 10 in Bhutan with scores still missing as devastating floods and landslides hit the Himalayan nations.
Torrential monsoon rain and flash floods, thought to have been triggered by a glacial outburst in a high-lying region bordering Tibet on June 16, inundated Sindhupalchok district of Nepal, about 70 kilometers from capital Kathmandu, sweeping away settlements, bridges and other infrastructure.
Among the dead were one Indian and two Chinese workers, local media reported.
Many people were swept away by fast-flowing floodwater, prompting frantic rescue attempts by Nepal’s army and police in affected areas. About 70 people have been rescued while many remain unaccounted for.
Following warnings about landslides blocking the Indravati River, thousands of people in Melamchi Bazar rushed to safer places with whatever they could grab.
Among the worst-hit settlements were Melamchi Municipality, Helambu Rural Municipality, Pachpokhari Thangpal Rural Municipality and Indrawati Rural Municipality on the banks of the Indravati River.
Our hearts are with the people of Laya today as we hear about the tragedy
Sher Bahadur Tamang, Nepal’s minister of health and a parliamentarian from Sindhupalchok district, said half of the district was affected due to multiple landslides in higher mountain reaches, reported The Himalayan Times.
"Some 30 kilometers from Melamchi Bazaar, landslides have blocked the river, resulting in a big dam. The river eventually breached the dam and gushed into settlements, wreaking havoc," Tamang said.
In Nepal, major rivers including the Indravati River and Narayani River (also known as Kali Gandaki River) have been flowing above dangerous levels, fueling fears about further flooding and prompting the government to urge people to relocate to community shelters on safer ground.
In Bhutan, a group of villagers were washed away by floodwater. They were sleeping in their camp near Laya, about 60 kilometers north of capital Thimphu, where they had been collecting cordeyceps, a fungus used in medicine. Some 10 people died and five were injured.
Armed forces were deployed to carry out a rescue mission in the remote area.
"Our hearts are with the people of Laya today as we hear about the tragedy that struck a group of cordeycep collectors in the highlands," Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said.
“I join the nation in offering prayers and condolences to the bereaved families and community of Laya. At the same time, I urge everyone across the country to avoid visiting or camping by the riverside, and to be cautious of such possible mishaps during monsoon.”
The monsoon season is vital for South Asian countries to refill water supplies but heavy flooding wreaks havoc every year, destroying lives, livelihoods and infrastructure with experts blaming climate change and unplanned development projects for increased floods and landslides in the region.
In 2020, about 200 people died in monsoon flooding in Nepal.