Deadly Monsoon Rains Sweep India, China

By Tara Chand Malhotra

NEW DELHI, India, July 9, 2003 (ENS) - At least 23 people have lost their lives and tens of thousands have been affected in a series of landslides and flash floods triggered by incessant monsoon rainfall in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal state. The worst landslides have cut off the hilly tea producing Darjeeling district from the rest of India.

In China, 13 people have died since the end of June due to torrential rain and flooding. Information collected by the Red Cross Society of China shows that the heavy rains across large parts of southern, eastern and central China have affected close to 100 million people in 16 provinces, causing 298 deaths so far this year.


The town of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas (Photo courtesy Mike Searle)
The Himalayan landlocked country of Sikkim is marooned fue to major damage to the Nandi bridge near Siliguri, leaving Kalimpong and Guwahati inaccessible from Siliguri as well.

Many people are still missing, and authorities fear they are trapped beneath the debris.

Darjeeling District Magistrate Hridyesh Mohan said, “The worst hit areas were the Gayabari and Singbulee tea estates.” Here, landslides occurred in four spots in close proximity of each other."

According to Mohan, rescue teams have pulled out 18 bodies so far, including three women, from the disaster site.

West Bengal's Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said in his home town of Kolkata that 14 persons were killed and six others known to be missing are feared to have died under the debris.

While Mohan put the number of those missing at eight, Mirik Municipality Chairman L.B. Rai, who was on the spot, fears the toll might be more than 30.


Chief Minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Bhattacharjee confirmed that Army help has been sought since Hill Cart Road, Pankhabari Road, Mirik Road and Kalimpong Road are blocked.

Though a relief kitchen has been opened for those affected, relief and rescue operations have been hindered by the disruption of landline and mobile phone services throughout the day.

The slew of landslides has breached in six places the road known as NH55, which is the arterial connector of Darjeeling and Kurseong with Siliguri.

Incessant rainfall in Sikkim and Darjeeling has caused all local rivers to overflow. With the Brahmaputra River rising steadily, the flood situation in Assam is becoming more serious.

The volume of water in the Brahmaputra has led to rising water levels in several North Bengal Rivers. Large parts of Siliguri and Jalpaiguri are under water.

State Public Works Department Minister Amar Chowdhury said the hills received a total 155 millimeters of rainfall on Monday night. He has asked Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta to release adequate money from the natural calamity fund to deal with the emergency.


The Ganges River running high through West Bengal. The Brahmaputra is a tributary of the Ganges. (Photo courtesy West Bengal Irrigation and Waterways)
Chowdhury also asked the district administration to set up a disaster team to assess the extent of damage.

Officials estimate it will take at least three days to restore vehicular movement between the hills and the plains.

In neighboring Jalpaiguri district, which serves as a receptacle for the rainwater streaming down the hills, the administration has issued a red alert. More than 50,000 people are caught in the onrushing water, now coming in a ceaseless downpour.

To help control the water levels, a large amount of water has been released from the Teesta barrage at Gajaldoba, flooding the downstream areas of the Teesta River and its tributaries.

Meanwhile, as the Brahmaputra River is flowing above the danger level, the overall flood situation in Assam state is also worsened.

More and more new areas of central and lower Assam have been inundated, and three deaths have been reported.

The floods have also affected life in other parts of South Asia including Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh where scores of people have died in the past few weeks.

In Dhaka, the Bangladesh Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre said today that the Brahmaputra River has started rising again and may cross the danger level at Chilmari, Bahadurabad and Serajganj in the next 24 to 48 hours. As a result, low lying areas in the districts of Bogra, Jamalpur, Serajganj, Pabna, and Tangail are likely to be inundated, officials warn.


The Chinese province of Anhui is inundated each year during monsoon season. In 1999, Chinese Red Cross medical teams use boats to reach flood victims cut off by deep water. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
China too is being hit with the annual monsoon rains, which have killed 13 people in the past week. The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs reports that 552,000 people have been evacuated, and 1.85 million people in 6,266 villages are stranded by floods.

In the worst affected provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Henan, all located along the Huai River, the economic losses are estimated to exceed US$800 million according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

In Anhui province, the accumulated rainfall has caused the largest floods since 1991. Chinese authorities have blown up seven dikes along the swollen Huai River over the last two days to divert floodwaters and protect large cities such as Anhui’s industrial town of Bengbu. An estimated 400,000 people in Anhui have been evacuated to safe areas, local authorities say.