Survivors of the Lhuntse flash flood share what happened that night

Families in Lhuntse are mourning the loss of their loved ones as the search for the missing continues following a devastating flash flood in Ungar village under Lhuentse Dzongkhag.

Gingtu Tenzin, a Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) work supervisor who is a survivor of the flood in Lhuntse shared his harrowing experience of nearly being taken away by the flood and also losing his wife.

He recalled the moment when the flood hit, saying, “After 5 pm as my work time got over, I came to my camp which is a temporary quarter made with plywood. As I always make sure to chant prayers, I did my usual thing. It was a usual sunny day, however, suddenly the weather changed and there was thunder strike with lightning and it literally felt like an earthquake.”

“Unexpectedly around 7:30 pm the grounds were shaking like there was an actual earthquake. My wife Zangmo was in the kitchen preparing dinner while I went outside to check as it felt really unusual. All the lights went off followed by the flashflood which I think carried mud and rocks. It was pitch dark so I am really not sure what it really was but it washed away my residence with me. Though I was a few meters away from the flashflood, the speed and force of the flood was such that it came in and also washed me almost 100 meters away.”

He also mentioned that when he came to his senses, he found himself naked and all his body was covered in mud. “When I woke up after the flood washed me, I found myself in the riverbank and I could feel myself drenched in muddy water and my clothes were all torn. I quickly crawled to the higher altitude for safety and managed to reach the Ungar village. Then an ambulance came and escorted me to the BHU.”

The following day the search and rescue team found his wife’s body in parts which he said could be identified only because of her different hair and nail color. Such was the force of the flood.

As he was working with DGPC he said they provided immediate support with the cremation, transportation and also other budget support.

Karma Yonten another survivor, who was working as a supervisor shared, he was staying with his wife Tandin Zangmo, daughter Tshering Dema and his son. “The ground was literally shaking like it was an earthquake. Though it was thundering no heavy rainfall was there. My wife and daughter went to check outside and after few minutes they were shouting it is coming and immediately came inside. I went to check outside and saw a huge flood coming. At such a chaotic moment I called my family to run uphill and at the same time the power also went off.”

“By the time I almost reached a safer place the flood was already rampant and almost washed me away. My family were following me uphill but they all got washed away. My son shared that he was also washed away almost 200 meters down and later on was found alive near the river bank unharmed. My wife’s dead body was found in the morning whereas my daughter’s body is still missing.”

Tshering Tashi, father of daughter Lemo, who was washed away in the flash flood, shared that despite the search and operation teams’ efforts his daughters’ body was still not recovered. “With the strength of the flashflood and the difficulty in finding bodies of those who were washed away, we have come to accept that my daughter is no more. We have conducted 14 days funeral rites for her without any body. The project team and the dzongkhag administration has supported us in every way possible.”

The contractors will be operating from the other existing camps located at Head Race Channel/Tunnel sites. Additional camps, if required, will be established at Ungar Village by leasing fallow land which are at a higher elevation from the river banks.

The Managing Director of DGPC Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said, “The effort towards recovery of bodies at the accident site (intake site) will continue and works at the accident site are on hold. The works in the tunnel and power house have not been affected and are being continued although not at the same pace”.

“Except for some additional protection works at the upstream of the intake which was affected by the flood, the intake work will be executed as planned in due course of time,” said Dasho.

The search operation was immediately started after the incident on July 20, 2023 and is being continued. The project and the contractors, Desuung, local communities, DGPC power plants and other projects like Punatsangchu have supported and are continuing to support in the search efforts.

The MD of DGPC shared that on the day the unfortunate disaster took place, all the family members of the missing persons were informed. The family members who arrived at the project sites were looked after till they went back.

“This support will continue to be provided should any family members still arrive at the project site. The families who decided to take the recovered bodies for cremation to other locations were facilitated with transportation along with escort till their homes. Along the way on the journey to their homes, the project facilitated and provided all support as necessary”.

He also said, “For the four bodies whose families decided to cremate at Khoma Crematorium, Lhuntse, all activities of cremation were carried out by project with support from Dzongkhag, Desuung, Gewogs and Lhuntse Rabdey. The expenditures were borne by the project. After the cremation, the families are being reached to their homes or other places as desired for carrying out the last rites”.

“Some immediate financial support from the welfare funds were delivered. The employees are covered under personal insurance policies and other benefits like as GIS and pension. These are being processed”.

The nearest offices of DGPC and BPC and other hydropower construction sites visited and are continuing to visit the families to provide whatever support possible such as provision of vehicles, hoisting of prayer flags, semsos in kind, etc. This will continue till the last rites are completed.

To those families who survived, but lost their belongings, the project is providing some immediate relief financially as well as supporting them with the distribution of basic household items.

The project will continue to support the affected families in whatever way possible.

The recent flash flood in Lhuntse has washed away 23 people of who 8 were working for the Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and 14 were the family members and there was one Desuup. As on date 8 bodies have been recovered out of the 23 missing.

The eight DGPC staff were supervisors, technicians and surveyors and they were involved in building the intake structure of 32 MW Yungichhu Hydro Power Project.

During the site visit at the time of feasibility studies, the community had reported that there was no history of flooding of the Newanchu. It was found that the whole of the catchment was rain fed. There were no lakes in the catchment area of the Newanchu as well as Yungichhu.

From the survey of the catchment area starting from 24 July till 31 July, the flash flood appears to have been caused due to a number of small and major landslides in the Newanchu catchment on that faithful evening.

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