The Bihar government Saturday sounded a flood alert in eight districts and launched a massive evacuation in anticipation of the Kosi breaching its banks, hours after a landslide in Nepal blocked the course of the river.
The state conducted a massive evacuation of people living along the Kosi embankment in Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Madhubani, Purnia and Darbhanga districts.
The emergency response followed an alert from the Nepalese government that 10-metre-high walls of water may inundate villages on the Indian side. A government source in Delhi told HT water in excess of 2.2 million cubic metres — nearly half of Delhi’s daily consumption in peak summer — was expected to travel the 270km distance and reach border villages in Bihar at 4am Sunday, hopefully giving the state time to ensure minimal loss of lives.
All eyes will be on the volume of onrushing water reaching the Birpur Kosi barrage. An expert said if water above 250,000 cusec (cubic foot per second) were discharged, it would be disastrous.
The feared water wall could bring much more water than the manageable upper limit of 250,000 cusec.
Eight people were confirmed dead and hundreds displaced in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk district, 120km east of Kathmandu. Over a hundred were missing. The 40-metre-high blockade on the river — called Sunkoshi on that side — formed a four-km-long lake that rose several metres, sinking houses and a hydro-power plant. With the water level rising dangerously, the army conducted two controlled explosions in the blocked area, letting the accumulated water flow downstream, and towards northern Bihar bordering Nepal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is travelling to Nepal on Sunday on a two-day visit, expressed concern. The PM said all possible assistance should be provided to the Bihar government and to Nepal.
Late afternoon on Saturday, a team from the Nepali Army conducted two controlled explosions in the blocked area enabling the accumulated water, which had formed a huge lake, to flow downstream.
All 56 sluice gates of the Kosi barrage on the border have been opened as a preventive measure, said Jawahar Lal, superintending engineer of the water resources department in Patna.
“The Bihar government has started taking action for the evacuation of nearly 45,000 people from villages in the embankment area in 22 panchayats of Supaul district,” a home ministry official said. Similar steps were being taken in seven other districts. In Patna, Anirudh Kumar, special secretary, disaster management department, said lakhs of people would have to be evacuated.
“We are trying to get more information but getting real-time water data from Nepal has always been a problem,” the ministry official said. In its absence, Delhi was supplementing information from Kathmandu with the Central Water Commission’s assessment and satellite imagery to get a sense of the expected inundation in Bihar.
The official added that eight teams of the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed and an additional seven were being moved in from neighbouring West Bengal.
In addition, the Bihar government rushed six columns of state disaster relief forces from Purnia, Darbhanga and Patna to be on standby in the districts likely to be impacted. It appealed to people to move to elevated spots with their cattle, or take shelter in camps set up by district administrations in the Kosi region (Supaul, Madhubani and Saharsa).
Lakshmi Prasad Chauhan, district magistrate of Supaul, which would be the first to be hit, said, “We are on the job (evacuation). However, we cannot predict when the waters will come.”
Principal secretary, state disaster management department, Vyasji, who goes by one name, said the state was preparing for the worst and had set up relief camps in eight districts. “We are preparing to tackle the worst eventuality.”
He did not rule out the possibility of imminent flood in the six districts, with Supaul facing the brunt of devastation.
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.
Manish Ranjan, NDRF commandant, IX battalion, said, "We have already dispatched eight fully equipped teams of 45 persons each to the affected areas. I am also on way to personally monitor and supervise the NDRF operation.
“NDRF personnel, apart from relief and rescue, are also appealing to local people on the public address system to shift to safer places in view of the impending disaster.”
The state disaster management department has advised divisional commissioners and district magistrates to set up relief camps for shifting the maximum number of people living within the Kosi embankments, apart from other affected people.
A round-the-clock emergency operation centre has started functioning in DMD state headquarters.
(With inputs from Binod Dubey)