KATHMANDU: Rescuers yesterday found 12 more bodies buried under mud and debris to bring the death toll from landslides and flooding in Nepal to 97, sparking fears of a cholera outbreak.
Torrential rain last week triggered multiple landslides and flooding, stranding thousands of villagers and leaving a trail of death and destruction in the Himalayan nation.
The rains have damaged roads across the country’s western plains bordering India, forcing officials to use helicopters to rescue stranded people and deliver emergency supplies.
The new death toll was given by Jhankanath Dhakal, chief of Nepal’s National Emergency Operation Centre.
As the weather cleared yesterday after three days of incessant rain, the government deployed 2,000 rescue workers and four helicopters to help evacuate thousands of people from badly-hit western districts, Dhakal said.
In Bardiya, officials scrambled to provide clean drinking water kits to distraught villagers, as fears grew of a cholera outbreak from the submerged bodies of humans and livestock.
Cholera is a potentially deadly disease spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated by human faeces. “We are alert to the risks of water-borne diseases after flooding. A medical team is going from shelter to shelter... distributing water-purifying drops,” Achyut Lamichhane, Bardiya’s chief health official, said.
As water levels slowly recede, rescuers have started moving people into temporary shelters. But large areas remain submerged, preventing helicopters from landing to let workers search for those still missing, said national disaster management chief Yadav Prasad Koirala.
Local officials said the rains had devastated entire villages, destroying houses and drowning families along with their livestock.
“The place stank of decomposing cattle. All 30 houses have been destroyed, I could see shards of doors and windows... clothes and utensils,” said Bijay Gautam, a local official returning from a visit to Durwo village in Dang district.
A woman and her two daughters, who initially fled but later returned home to retrieve their valuables, were among the dead, Gautam said.
Villagers in Surkhet, the worst-affected district, described their horror at being awoken by news that the nearby Bheri river was overflowing early Friday.
“My neighbours woke me up. I gathered my family and we just ran uphill to save ourselves... I didn’t even have time to cut my cattle loose so they could flee,” farmer Prem Bahadur Pun said. “By morning, our house was gone, the cattle was gone, my land was gone. I have lost everything.”
About 150 people from his village managed to escape, Pun said, but many others were not as lucky. “So many people are missing... including one of my neighbours, his wife and two grandchildren,” he said.
As villagers waited for help, many were already suffering from fever though no symptoms of cholera had been observed yet, Pun said.
“No one (from the government) has come here yet,” Pun said. “Some people are getting sick... We have some medicine, but what will we do when it runs out?” The deaths come two weeks after the worst landslide in over a decade smashed into hamlets in the hilly northeast and killed 156 people.