Nepal landslides spark fear of flash floods

© Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
As survivors of the Nepal earthquakes struggle with the aftermath, a landslide has caused fears of flash flooding.

Villagers evacuated after landslips block fast-flowing river, with emergency workers hoping to drain water masses before they destroy scores of homes

Thousands of people have been told to evacuate their homes in Nepal after massive landslides blocked a river in the west of the country, sparking fears of flash flooding.

Two powerful earthquakes devastated Nepal on 25 April and 12 May, killing nearly 8,700 people and injuring 16,800 others.

Authorities fear tremors could unleash a flash flood that could destroy dozens of villages in the remote Myagdi district, 80 miles (130km) north-west of Kathmandu, the capital.

Emergency workers are hoping to drain the lake created behind the debris now blocking the normally fast-flowing Kali Gandaki river.

Kamal Singh Bam, a spokesman for Nepal police, said at least 123 people had already been evacuated from areas flooded by the newly formed lake. "Luckily they are safe, but the water level has risen covering all the houses up to around a kilometre upstream of the landslide," Bam said.

Nepal's quake-shattered villages: 'there's nothing to stay for now'

Sesh Narayan Poudel, a senior bureaucrat, said at least 10 villages had been evacuated overnight. "The water level of Kali Gandaki flowing below the dam is dropping, and that's not a good sign," Poudel said.

Although police and army teams have reached the site, the threat of new tremors has prevented work to drain the lake and ease the pressure on the natural dam. Continuing aftershocks and the effect of the first major earthquake have left many areas in Nepal unstable.

"Once the landslides have stopped, our technical team in the area will assess the situation, and once we get their report we can try and get the water flowing again," Rishiram Sharma, head of the department of hydrology and meterology, said.

There have also been warnings that natural dams holding back massive glacial lakes high in the Himalayas could have been damaged in the earthquake last month. If one such dam gave way, flood water could kill thousands and destroy huge numbers of homes.

Two lakes in particular - one close to Everest and the other about 18 miles (30km) from the mountain - have caused concern in the past. But specialists say that unless there is a further tremor with an epicentre close to the lakes, they are safe for now.

"We have assessed all the glacial lakes potentially under threat, but there is no any difference in the assessment before and after the earthquake," Sharma said.

There are 1,466 glacial lakes in Nepal, with 21 big enough to cause serious concern. Many are swollen with glacial meltwater as a result of climate change, scientists say.

Myagdi district, where the villagers were evacuated on Saturday night, is in the west of the south Asian country and some distance from the areas worst affected by last month's tremor.

Geologists say the case should be a "a wakeup call for the Nepal", especially with summer rains forecast. "With the coming monsoon it's sure that Nepal will see several such landslides," Ranjan Kumar Dahal, a geologist said.