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HindustanTimes Fri,21 Nov 2014

Kosi fury: Centre launches massive relief ops in Bihar, NDRF deployed

HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times  Patna/New Delhi, August 03, 2014
First Published: 11:06 IST(3/8/2014) | Last Updated: 17:35 IST(3/8/2014)

Birpur town at the Nepal border in Madhepura district is being evacuated and the administration has stepped up the effort. Around 2 lakh people living within the embanked area of the Kosi, downstream, fear a deluge, as the trapped waters of the Sun Kosi will be released.

Bihar chief minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi, who is on an aerial survey, said that the situation was serious. Officials believed that the buildup of water in the artificial lake, caused by a landslide in Nepal, which blocked Bhote Kosi, had now reached 2.2 lakh cumecs.

Nepalese security personnel gather for rescue work at the site of a landslide in Sindhupalchowk area. (AP Photo)

Evacuation of people is on along the eastern Kosi embankments right from Birpur, with thousands of people crowding the Kosi Maha Setu, that links Darbhanga and Madhubani districts. Several others have taken refuge on taller embankments.

While the principal secretary for disaster management, Vyasji said that it was not known, whether Nepalese officials had carried out the controlled explosions to allow the pent up waters to seep through, Kosi officials at Birpur said, that there had been a slight increase in the water levels in the river, which at the moment was 'not threatening'.

However, Vyasji said, the administration was keeping its fingers crossed and praying that there is no precipitation in the Kosi catchement areas in Nepal, which, if happens, could cause further build up of water and could break the dammed up area leading to disastrous consequences for Bihar.

Read: After Nepal landslide, flood alert in 8 districts of Bihar

Read: 76 relief camps set up in six districts

Massive relief efforts launched

The Centre launched massive relief efforts, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi directing officials to do whatever it takes to save people in the direct line of the waters that could be released from the pent up Bhote Kosi, 262 kms from the Bihar borders at Birpur.

Union telecommunications minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, speaking on instructions of the Prime Minister said, while 12 teams of national disaster reponse force had already reached the areas likely to be affected to carry out relief and rescue operations, three teams were their way and five more had been placed on standby.

This is in addition to a column of the army, which has taken positions along the Kosi embankment in highly vulnerable Supaul and Saharsa districts. Three other columns have been despatched from Sukna in West Bengal to reach Purnia.

The Centre ordered four choppers stationed at Purnia and Saharsa, while the IAF has been placed on alert in Gorakhpur and Bagdogra for any emergency.

Prasad informed, one AN-32 transport plane had already reached Chunapur airforce base in Purnia, while another was on standby with 2MI helicopters, 2 Chetak on alert. Two more MI choppers were being despatched together witha  navy divers team.

Additionally a 317 aircraft has been despatched on medical relief mission with 25 multi-speciality doctors with adequate equipment, Prasad said, adding, the NDRF had been equipped with SAT phones and another 15 SAT phones were being despatched.

A separate army column had also been despatched from Ranchi under Major Harsha Vardhan to join relief and rescue operations and the department of space is regularly monitoring data over Nepal in the area, where the river waters have been released as a pre-warning measure.

The Centre also said that there was no dearth of food stocks and the FCI godowns in the region had adequate stocks, while department of food has already been directed by the Prime Minister to replenish stocks speedily and as required.

Prasad agreed, that the situation was grim. While it was an uncontrollable natural calamity, all steps possible had been taken by the Prime Minister and the Union to mitigate any problem that might arise.

He said, the Bihar governments immediate focus was on evacuating as many people living on the rim of the embankments before the pent up waters traverses the 272 km from the affected area in Jure in Nepal and enters the Indian area at Birpur, sometime late evening of Sunday.

He said, evacuation was in full swing from critical areas in seven districts of Supaul, Saharsa, Madhubani, Madhepura, Purnia, Khagaria and Darbhanga.

Prasad said the PM, before embarking on his two-day Nepal trip had instructed for prompt, timely and speedy relief work and full cooperation with the Bihar government, with the rider that no effort should be spared.

Meanwhile, the Bihar government appealed to the people living in the floodplains of the Kosi upto Khagaria town, 80 kms south of Birpur barrage on the Indo-Nepal border, and Indian engineers to remove the landslide debris, which has blocked the river and created a 4km lake, in which the accumulation of water had reached a critical state.

Principal secretary, disaster management department (DMD) said, "We are prepared to force them to leave to save their lives, if they do not heed to the calls".

The administration wants people living between the embankments and on either flanks in districts like Supaul, Saharsa, Khagaria, Madhepura, Araria, Purnia and Madhubani to shift to some 84 relief camps, which have been set up and stocked with food.

Read: 100 likely dead as Nepal landslide blocks river

Choudhary said, that there has been appreciable rise in the Kosi flow at Birpurafter the blasts, but the peak could be attained between 2 am and 5 pm in Bihar areas, which would be the most critical.

Indian Air Force helicopters from its Gorakhpur and Bagdogra base in Uttar Pradesh would also be used in rescue and relief operations if required, with Purunia's Chunapur airfield as its base, the DMD principal secretary said.

While the disaster management department is reported to have opened 84 relief centres, Jyoti Mandal, a social activist reported that all essential commodities have started disappearing in Birpur and Madhepura. "Even flattened rice is not available", he said over phone.

A Nepalese Army helicopter flies over the site of a landslide during a rescue operation in Sindhupalchowk area, about 120 kilometers east of Katmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo)

He said, many people have already left Madhepura after a restless night on Saturday.

In Mahishi, thousands of people evacuated to the eastern embankments near Baluahi and Nauhatta.

About 200,000 people in about 100 villages of Mahisi and Nauhatta blocks between the Kosi eastern embankment face imminent danger and have to move out. The state is keeping its fingers crossed that a repeat of the Kosi disaster of 2008 does not happen.

A breach in Kosi embankment at Kushaha in Nepal on August 18, 2008, had resulted in one of the most disastrous floods in Bihar.

The river had changed its course, killing hundreds of people and displacing nearly three million. The incident also wreaked havoc in more than 800,000 acres of cropland.

The pressure on the government is to save Birpur barrage, which is in the entry point for the river, 80 kms north east of Madheoura town.

Read: Delhi, Kathmandu sit on dam plan to stop floods

Vyasji and minister for water resources, Vijay Kumar Choudhary said, while the barrage is designed to withstand a pressure upto 9lakh cusecs, the highest pressure it has faced is 6 lakh cusecs. Anything above that could be a worry.

Around two lakh people living within the embankments on a 256 km stretch from Birpur to Naugacchia and Khagaria near the Ganga would be in the direct path of the feared cascade, once Nepal effects an explosion to release the Sun Kosi waters.

To add, the river has a gradient of 47 metres per kilometre in its upper reaches and flattens to only 1 metre per km after Chatra in Nepal.

Beyond Chatra, on account of a progressive flattening of the bed gradient, the river first deposits boulders, pebble and shingles for over a distance of 32 km and sediment loads upto Hanumanagar.

Officials fear, if the some estimated 27 lakh cusecs is released suddenly, these boulders could hit the Birpur barrage and cause extensive damage forcing it to give way.

That would be an unprecedented disaster, the likes of which India has never seen, compromising as it would some 5 lakh people downstream, all the way upto the Ganga, some 80 km south in a straight line.

Read: Impending Kosi fury: Even best-case scenario not good, says expert


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