Outlook bleak for 43 missing after flash flood in Nepal

AFP, KATHMANDU

Mon, May 07, 2012 - Page 1

Rescuers scouring Nepal’s central Annapurna region after severe flash flooding said yesterday that there was almost no hope of finding survivors and that the final death toll could be as high as 60.

The bodies of 15 people have been recovered, but district police superintendent Sailesh Thapa said that 43 missing people, including three Ukrainian tourists, were feared dead. Most of the missing are thought to be local.

“So far, 12 of the 15 bodies have been identified. An excavator has reached the worst affected areas and is clearing the mud,” he said. “We have a list of another 43 people who have gone missing. Their chances of survival are almost zero.”

Just eight people have been rescued since the Seti River burst its banks near the town of Pokhara, a popular tourist hub, on Saturday, sweeping away the entire village of Kharapani.

One witness described how the river had suddenly turned into a lethal surge.

“There was nothing unusual. People were enjoying picnics, some were relaxing in the hot spring pools by the river and others working,” he told the Kathmandu Post. “Out of nowhere came this swelling, dark, murky water with debris, sweeping away many people.”

Sniffer dogs have been sent 200km from the capital, Kathmandu, to search for bodies, while police and army personnel hunt for survivors.

Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattari broke away from key political negotiations over forming a new government to visit the village washed away by the flood, his spokesman said.

“He has instructed the authorities to bring 20 excavators so that the dead bodies of those who have been buried by the floods can be recovered,” said Bishwadeep Pandey, personal secretary to Bhattari.

“The prime minister has also committed the government to provide expenses for the last rites to family members of those who died,” he added.

A landslide caused by days of heavy rain had blocked the Seti near its origin in the snow fields and glaciers of the Himalayas, Nepalese Army spokesman Ramindra Chhetri said.

“Then there was a powerful outburst, which resulted in a flash flood in the Seti River that entered human settlements and created havoc,” he said, adding some houses were covered with mud up to 3.5m deep.

The 8,091m Mount Annapurna attracts thousands of trekkers each year, as well as day-trippers to the banks of the Seti River.