Calamities galore, command centre yet to materialise

Yearender/Disaster: With the boat capsizing in Mangdechu on May 10 killing nine people, and the fire that razed most of the Sarpang town on January 15, the elements of water and fire smouldered the wood horse year almost to ashes.

The 18 adult passengers on board the boat at Rindibi in Zhemgang were on their way to Rindibi to collect cement for the school construction when the boat capsized.  The incident left behind many children fatherless.

Sarpang, the district, which was already making headlines for abductions and geckos, saw the biggest fire in the year, when it lost almost its entire town in a fire on February 15.  Some 81 shops were destroyed.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay rushed to the disaster site, and assured that a new township would be built at Raniban, Sarpang.

While the astrology institute had predicted windstorms in high altitude areas, it was Samtse and Zhemgang that were most affected.  A windstorm hit three gewogs in Samtse on May 11, damaging 96 homes and the dzongkhag’s general hospital.  A bolt of lightning also struck a house, killing a 40-year-old woman from Sombak village, while roofs of 27 houses were completely blown off.

The country also saw flash foods washing away three suspension bridges and two irrigation channels, when the swollen Sengphug Rongchu burst its banks in Toetsho, Trashiyangtse, on June 17.  It washed away the 28m Phatsabrag bridge and the 24.8m Shenakang bridge.

Some 100m of Kheshingri’s irrigation channel were damaged and between 600 to 700 acres of paddy fields destroyed.

In a separate incident, a flood at Redaza in Mongar on September 18 disrupted traffic along the Mongar to Bumthang highway.

Thimphu saw some of the biggest forest fires in the year.  A forest fire that started opposite Bap lhakhang destroyed more than 100 acres of blue pine forest, while a three-day old forest fire is still raging across two districts of Trashigang and Mongar.

But as disasters continue to hit the country one after another, the horse year saw the disaster management department still looking for funds to establish a national emergency operation centre.  In absence of the centre, an instant command centre that coordinates during any emergency was missing, making it difficult to coordinate even during a small forest fire incident. “There’s no one to take care of logistics, such as distributing water and food to the fire fighters or any other workers during a disaster,” the department’s director Chador Wangdi had said.

MB Subba

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