Devastation strikes settlement along Gelephu-Trongsa highway as Sethikhari stream bursts

In a tragic turn of events, the settlement below the Gelephu-Trongsa highway was shattered as the Sethikhari Stream overflowed, causing havoc in the community. The incident, which occurred around 1 PM on August 24, resulted in the damage of around 13 households, affecting individuals ranging from children to an elderly man aged 94.

The stream’s swelling had breached the walls that had been constructed to channel the flow of the stream, flooding the settlement with its uncontrolled force. The flood power not only destroyed property but also disrupted the lives of the residents, leaving them facing unprecedented challenges.

Bishnu, a 24-year-old resident who experienced the disaster firsthand, recounted the experience. “The situation went out of control despite the efforts of three excavators on site,” he shared. The stream’s waters flowed by their homes, flowing stream at the doorsteps, as the once-contained watercourse took a new course of its own, damaging the settlement.

The flooding damaged the gardens, water pipes, and personal belongings were swept away by the powerful water current. Livestock, including cattle and calves, were caught in the turmoil as the stream ran by their shelter. The rescue efforts faced significant obstacles, with the overflowing stream rendering vehicles unable to approach the affected households.

As the cleanup process begins, residents estimate that around 2 to 3 truckloads of debris and residue from the stream need to be cleared, symbolizing the scale of the destruction that took place. The affected families are now faced with the hard task of rebuilding their surroundings.

“We need a lasting solution,” shared Bishnu, reflecting the opinions of many residents. “A robust and well-engineered wall, constructed by a reputable company after a thorough study of the area, is essential to prevent such calamities in the future.”

Khem Raj, another resident shared, “We are fortunate that we have not suffered any casualties up to now. However, the constant rainfall has raised the water levels, and we are at risk due to the stream’s potential overflow into our settlement,”

He further added, “During the night, the situation becomes even more challenging. We need to be sensitive and cautious, as the stream could suddenly change its course towards our homes. If such an incident occurs overnight, the evacuation process would be immensely difficult. Additionally, the presence of wild elephants in the vicinity adds another layer of threat during such flooding episodes.”

Khem Raj suggested measures that could mitigate the risks faced by their community. “It would be highly beneficial if the concerned authorities could take preventive measures during the winter season. This could involve removing sediments from the stream and constructing durable walls to strengthen our settlement. Our settlement’s elevation aligns with that of the river, making it evident that the stream has the potential to change its path towards our homes.”

The issue of compensation and relocation has also been raised by some households. In the wake of this disaster, they are contemplating whether moving to a safer location might be a more practical option than living under the constant threat posed by the unpredictable Sethikhari Stream.

Meanwhile, Gelephu Gewog Gup, Prem Prasad Katel acknowledges the issue and notes that, while KN Construction was sent to assist with the flash flood, the attempt was unsuccessful because the severity of the flash flood destroyed the  gabion walls, resulting in 70 to 80 acres of land being covered in sand and pebbles.

According to the Gup, there is currently no lasting solution to the problem. He would rather work on a long-term solution with the community, like building concrete walls. Although there are no written plans to address the problem permanently, the Gewog reports that once engineers from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport come to assess the situation is hopeful that the government could assist them in bringing permanent solutions because the Nu 3 million deployed to build gabion walls are failing to do its job.

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