Nepal floods kill at least 97 as cholera fears rise

By Ammu Kannampilly, AFP

KATMANDU–Rescuers on Sunday found 12 more bodies buried under mud and debris as the death toll from landslides and flooding in Nepal climbed 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 Sunday, improving visibility after three days of incessant rain, army officials ran helicopter sorties to evacuate some 20,000 people stranded in badly hit western districts. “We are concerned about a possible outbreak of cholera because of all the dead bodies and livestock lying underwater,” home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told AFP.

Cholera is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated by the feces of people infected with the disease, which can kill within hours if left untreated. It causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

“We are on alert to make sure people don’t consume contaminated water, now or after they return to their homes over the coming week,” Dhakal said. National disaster management chief Yadav Prasad Koirala told AFP that authorities had “mobilized health workers to set up camps and provide people with clean drinking water and dry food.” As water levels slowly recede, rescuers have started moving people from their damaged homes into temporary shelters, but large areas remain submerged, preventing helicopters from landing to let workers search for those still missing, Koirala said. ‘I have lost everything’ 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 neighbors 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 told AFP by phone. “By morning, our house was gone, the cattle was gone, my land was gone. I have lost everything,” Pun said. About 150 people from his village managed to escape to safety by running uphill, Pun said, but many others were not as lucky. “So many people are missing … including one of my neighbors, his wife and two grandchildren,” he said. As the anxious 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. 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.