A massive landslide in northeastern Nepal left at least eight people dead and dozens missing Saturday, burying a hydropower plant and putting several villages at risk of flash floods due to debris blocking a major river, officials said.
The landslide struck in the early hours, burying two dozen homes before dumping mud and stones into the Sunkoshi river, northeast of the capital Kathmandu, an official in the prime minister's office told AFP.
"We are trying to find a way to release the blocked water safely," said Prakash Adhikari, press adviser to the prime minister.
The debris has created a lake measuring at least three kilometres by 300 metres (about two miles by 300 yards) and already flooded a 2.6-megawatt hydropower plant on the river according to Himal Hydro, which built the project.
"We have shut down the Sunkoshi hydropower project due to flooding, another transmission tower has also been damaged," said Arun Rajoria, deputy general manager of Himal Hydro.
Officials scrambled to clear the river, fearing that two more power stations downstream could be damaged if the water level kept rising.
A police official at the scene of the disaster said electricity lines had snapped, leaving hundreds without power.
The government has declared the area a "flood crisis zone" and ordered the army to use explosives to try to clear the river.
Home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said police and army officials had retrieved eight bodies and airlifted 16 injured people to safety.
"Dozens more are still missing, we are trying to find them and also evacuating everyone living along the river in case of floods," Dhakal told AFP.
A portion of the Arniko Highway, which connects the Himalayan nation with Tibet, has been closed, with concern mounting over risks to the Koshi barrage near the India-Nepal border, Dhakal said.
"We are very worried, there is a high risk of flash floods," he said.
Scores of people die every year from flooding and landslides during the monsoon season in Nepal.
At least 75 people were killed in separate incidents last year, when floods triggered by heavy rains struck homes in the country's remote hilly region and southern plains.
According to a team of US and Nepalese scientists, flash flooding which swept away an entire village in May 2012 originated with a minor rockslide that dammed a gorge and created a reservoir over several weeks.
When an avalanche struck the reservoir, the dam burst, leading to a huge flood on the Seti river that left more than 70 people dead.
About 150 people were feared dead in neighbouring India after a landslide hit a village in the western state of Maharashtra last week.