The 1st picture shows the DGPC and Desuup camp site and the 2nd picture is at the site

Flashflood washes away 23 people

In what is one of the biggest losses of life in recent memory, 23 people camped near a small stream below the Ungar village in Maedtsho gewog, Lhuentse was washed away by a flash flood at around 7.30 pm on Thursday night.

Of the 23 washed away, eight people worked for the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and the other 14 were their family members (including six children) and one Desuup.

The tragedy was made worse by the fact that due to the school holidays, the students had come to the site.

The lone Desuup who died had gone to use a bathroom farther away when the flood came. His name was Ugyen Choda and his body was sent to his home in Rangjung, Trashigang.

The eight DGPC staff were made up of  work supervisors, operator, plumber, electrician, section officer and surveyor and they were involved in building the intake structure of the 32 MW Yungichhu Hydro Power Project.  The remaining were family members and the Desuup.

The Lhuentse Dzongkhag administration said that of the 23 who got washed away 7 bodies had been found (see box for names of the 23).

The camp consisted of a higher DGPC camp with green roof and a lower Desuup camp with red roof, both of which got washed away.

According to eyewitness statements, the DGPC staff had finished their work and were back home and preparing for dinner when they heard a loud noise and suddenly their camp was engulfed in mud and rocks.

A massive mudslide came down the normally small stream carrying mud, rocks and trees and first overwhelmed the DGPC camp followed by the Desuup camp.

The Desuup camp was lucky as the DGPC camp took the first and worst hit and a few heavy machineries in between the two camps may have slowed the mud slide giving time to the Desuups in the lower camp to move out.

There is no natural lake above the stream site and so the cause could have been a cloud burst when large volumes of water are suddenly dumped by clouds in a small area. A natural dam could have been formed upstream making the problem worse.

The force of the flood was so strong and the volume so large that it went directly over the camps.

The main hydro project itself located on the Yungichhu river was not impacted.

The recovery of bodies is challenging as it was not a conventional flood but more like a major mudslide with large boulders and a lot of mud. The bodies would either be buried under the large volume of mud and rock or be washed away into the main Yungichhu river.

Excavators are being used to look for the bodies.

After the disaster happened the Dzongkhag team, the Gyalpoi Zimpon’s office and others were activated to search the area and also provide relief to the survivors.

One question now being asked is on site election for the camp.

The traditional Ungar village is located higher up and the DGPC and Desuup camp sites were lower down near the small stream.

While a DGPC official said the area had no history of flooding a careful look at the picture shows that the camp was built in the wider valley of the stream.

The DGPC MD Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that the site selection was done after a study by a geologist. He said when they first came to the site there was already a house that had been occupied for a while and a bridge at the site. He said the stream was so small that it was never seen as a threat and the in fact the camps along the main river were seen as being in more danger. Those were built higher up.

Some of the bodies were found at the place of the flood and a few around the main river. Desuups and police are combing the river and other areas to look for bodies.

The DGPC MD said it is too early to make an assessment of how the natural disaster and the loss of staff will impact the project (more on pg 11).

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