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East India flood threat eases, 30,000 villagers told to go home

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 5 Aug 2014 13:54 GMT
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Villagers sit in a relief camp after being evacuated in Sipaul district in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, after a landslide in Nepal threatened them with floods. Picture August 3, 2014. REUTERS/Krishna Murari Kishan
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BHUBANESHWAR, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – About 30,000 evacuated villagers in eastern India began returning home on Tuesday after the threat of floods due to a  landslide in neighbouring Nepal eased, but 100,000 remained in relief camps, government officials said.

The landslide, triggered by heavy rains in Nepal's Sindhupalchowk district on Saturday,  killed at least 33 people and created a mud dam blocking the Sunkoshi river, which flows into India as the Kosi river.

Indian authorities, fearing a torrent of water as the Nepalese army tried to clear the landslide, evacuated more than 130,000 villagers in Bihar state over the weekend.

A senior disaster management official said the careful clearing of the landslide across the border had lessened the risk of flash floods and 30,000 evacuees were told to return home.

"Some of the districts … in the downstream area such as Darbhanga, Madhubani, Khagaria and Bhagalpur, they may not face the problems anticipated earlier," said Vyasji, principal secretary of Bihar disaster management department.

"We have stopped our evacuation process in these four districts. People who are at the relief camps have been told to go back to their villages," he told Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Patna, Bihar's main city.

But the districts of Supaul, Saharsa and Madhepura remained on high alert, Vyasji added, and around 100,000 people were still sheltering in relief camps.

Both India and Nepal have monitored the Kosi river closely since it broke its banks in 2008 and changed its course, killing more than 500 people, submerging swathes of land and affecting more than two million people in Bihar.

The Nepalese army has set off a series of controlled blasts over the past three days to drain the artificial lake slowly. Yadav Koirala, chief of the Natural Disaster Relief Division at the home ministry, said the army was trying to increase the river’s flow by draining the artificial lake formed by the landslide.    

"The army set off a small controlled explosion at the mud dam today to drain the lake. It is not a big blast," Koirala told Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We are doing it very carefully so the water does not flow suddenly.

Monsoon rains that start in mid-June and continue through September are crucial for many countries in South Asia, but scores of people die every year in landslides and floods.

Heavy rains in June last year caused rivers and lakes to burst their banks, killing almost 6,000 people in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.

 ((Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma in KATHMANDU; Writing by Nita Bhalla; editing by Tim Pearce))

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