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Nepal Floods: Fear and Panic

From 15 to 18 June, Darchula District in Western Nepal was hit hard by four days of incessant rain, which caused huge damage. Gagan, a Save the Children staff member, was in the area as the river burst its banks.

“I had never witnessed a disaster situation and I was there in the midst of the floods: I saw houses being swept away by the fury of the Mahakali River,” he recounted. “With no signs of the rain stopping, I was disoriented and confused – a sense of panic set in.”

On Friday 14 June, an eight-member Save the Children team travelled out to the far west of Nepal to train our team stationed in Suahara. The following day, it started to pour.

Soon, the national police and army were asking Gagan and the other guests in their hotel to evacuate to higher ground, urgently: the Mahakali River was rising. To Gangan’s shock and dismay all houses above the river banks had disappeared. All he could see was the gushing force of the water slamming hard onto the banks of the river. The team hastily packed up.

“Patients in the health post were being moved,” said Gagan. “Medical staff were busy moving life-saving equipment. Homes, grocery stores and hotels were being swept away, it was a scene I had never seen before and we panicked… It was so sudden.”

Mobiles work but the waters rise

The phone networks were disrupted but luckily their mobiles continued to work – a huge comfort. The team in Kathmandu and the regional office were in constant communication but people were continually forced to move higher as the flood waters, and their fear, continued to rise. People looked on as the ferocious river engulfed everything in its path. A decision was taken to evacuate Gagan and his colleagues. But a huge challenge remained: all roads out of the district, even road access through India, were blocked by landslides.

Meanwhile, the police and army were the first to reach out to families – they were deployed immediately to prevent people being trapped and swept away. This prompt action limited the loss of life to only one person.

But more relief was needed and faster. Over 350 families have been affected with more than 100 houses completely destroyed. Around 5000 children are not attending school because three schools have been washed away and the remaining school buildings are sheltering displaced families.

Safe in Dhangadi

Gagan and seven other staff members were air-lifted out and are now safe in Dhangadi. Save the Children managed to send in 300kg of rice and 50kg of lentils on the same helicopter that rescued them and later distributed 130 shelter kits. A further 50 are on their way. They include kitchen utensils enabling families to prepare food.

Although the rain has stopped for now, there is a lasting sense of shock and disbelief. Darchula has never witnessed such an overwhelming scale of destruction. It could take up to six months to clear the road blockages, meaning the distribution of basic supplies will be a huge challenge.

Save the Children teams are continuing to assess the damage and are planning to help build temporary learning centres. Nature may have radically disrupted ordinary life but it mustn’t be allowed to affect children’s education.

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