21 September 2011

The earthquake in the Himalayas, Typhoon Roke, and landslides in Guatemala and Rwanda

Posted by Dave Petley

The Tapeljung earthquake

As expected, the death toll from the Tapeljung (Nepal) earthquake continued to rise yesterday.  Latest reports suggest that 61 people died in Sikkim, plus 12 in West Bengal, nine in Bihar, 11 in Nepal and seven in Tibet, generating a total of 91 deaths so far.  However, AP is now reporting that there are fears that a landslide buried a further 40 people at a construction site for a hydroelectric plant at the town of Saffo on the Teesta River.  Presumably this is the project described in this website – it will be interesting to see how this story develops.  It is unclear to me at the moment whether the reported death toll for Sikkim includes the 12 workers known to have died at the site.

Landslides continue to hinder the emergency operations, as described in this news reportSome news reports suggest that two soldiers (Jawans, meaning infantryman, in the local terminology) have been killed during the landslide removal operations.  Finally, the Save the Hills blog now has a very thoughtful, and indeed thought-provoking, piece on the experience of living through the earthquake in Darjeeling.

Finally, there has been little coverage of the damage in Bhutan, but Kuensel provides details.

Typhoon Roke and the landslide dams on the Kii Peninsular in Japa

Meanwhile, typhoon Roke is just about to make landfall in Japan (image from Tropical Storm Risk):

Colin Stark drew my attention to the real-time monitoring of the landslide dams, which suggests that all four are behaving in an interesting manner!  The graphs below show the measured water levels in the lake with time.  The Akatani dam appears to have overtopped and breached:

Meanwhile, the Iwo dam appears to have also overtopped, although less spectacularly:

Meanwhile the other two (KD and NT) are intact but showing a very rapid increase in water level, but note that the monitoring for the first appears to have failed:

It will be very interesting to see how these dams perform over the next few hours.  Meanwhile, the storm is likely to bring very heavy rainfall over the Tokuku earthquake area, which could induce many landslides in this region as well.  Fortunately at the moment the storm is quite fast-moving, which may reduce the rainfall impacts a little.  Rain radar images are available online; at the time of writing the picture looks rather grim for the earthquake affected areas:

3. A landslide in Guatemala

Reuters reports that a landslide in Guatemala yesterday killed 15 people – of which three bodies (all children) have been recovered so far.  This slide occurred a day after the earthquakes that also triggered at least one landslide, though it is unclear as to whether there is a link.  It appears that this is more likely to have been rainfall-induced.

4. A landslide in Rwanda

And just to complete this tale of destruction, allAfrica.com reports a landslide in Rwanda two days ago that killed five children and destroyed  60 homes in Butaro and Rusarabuye, Burera District.  Another child was killed whilst crossing a river.

Many of these stories are developing rapidly – I will try to post updates later.