Parts of the Thimphu-Sarpang highway also washed away
Disaster: Nothing remains of Sarpang town, except for a watch tower, after a swollen Sarpang river washed it away early yesterday.
His Majesty The King arrived in Gelephu yesterday, to personally inspect the damage and the ongoing relief efforts at the Sarpang market.
No casualties were reported as of yesterday.
Loss of property was also minimised as the goods of all 52 shops were relocated to higher and safer grounds on July 20.
Rescue and relief work began, after immediate Royal Command, to evacuate the area.
Sarpang went through an intense situation yesterday. Teams of Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) soldiers helped relocate the remaining goods from the shops above the highway without rest.
Under continuous rainfall, RBA personnel helped shopkeepers transport areca nut products that were buried in 20 large pits above the highway.
Residents of the town could be observed feverishly loading the last of their belongings onto vehicles when it became clear that the town would not be spared by the river.
Residents watched helplessly as the river broke its banks and washed away the town.
CGI sheets and wooden planks now litter the banks of the river downstream. Sarpang town was made up of temporary make-shift structures that housed the shops.
The Gelephu-Sarpang highway that is located above the town was also washed away. All vehicular movement has come to a stop.
More than 200 vehicles have lined up on either side of the town. Let alone vehicles, there is hardly any land remaining for even people to cross the town on foot to go towards the Helay check-post.
This is not the first time Sarpang town faced such destruction. The town was also wiped out after an overnight flood in 1996.
Mon Maya Subba, 68, one of the oldest residents of Sarpang town vividly remembers that night when she ran for her life. She recollected that the town was also completely razed to the ground by a fire around two decades before the 1996 flood.
Three years later when people had just begun rebuilding from the flood, the town was again partially razed by another fire.
In February last year, the town experienced another fire disaster. However, 52 of the 82 shops escaped the fire because a parking space separated them from the row of shops that caught on fire.
Yesterday’s flood completely washed away the remaining shops as well.
Mon Maya Subba said that every time Sarpang was hit with a disaster, the people somehow rebuilt it but this time the destruction is beyond repair. “When there is no land in the town area there is no hope for it to rise again there,” she said. “Sarpang town is completely destroyed.”
Following several disasters only about 2.5 acres of land had remained below the highway that served as the town that housed 81 shops before the fire last year. Two people owned that 2.5 acre land.
One of them, Jaganath Pradhan, who owned 89 decimals said that although he did not reside in the town, he is worried because more than half of his property has been washed away. “I don’t know what will happen or if I’ll ever get land replacement or compensation,” he said. “I could do nothing but watch my property being washed away.”
The other landowner, Choden Dukpa, owned 1.6 acres. She along with her family are now living at the vegetable market following their home being washed away.
Choden said that although she owned land in the town, she has nowhere to go now that it has been washed away. Unless she gets land compensation or replacement she has no choice but to continue living in the vegetable shed, she said.
Meanwhile, of the 52 shopkeepers in the town, 16 of them do not have a place of residence because they lived in the town.
The dzongkhag administration has made temporary arrangements for them at the Sunday vegetable market. Homeless residents were provided with tarpaulin sheets, mosquito nets, water, electricity and meals for two days.
Sarpang Dzongdag Dawala said that for now all necessary temporary arrangements have been made for the people who have no place to live. Other shopkeepers have their place of residence at Sarpang Taar, which is about a five-minute drive away.
On road connectivity nothing can be confirmed until the rain subsides, the dzongdag said. The water volume in the Sarpang river remains high.
Two excavators were deployed in the river below the Helay check-post to divert the river’s course.
The Sarpang river has swollen as a result of incessant rain for the past few days.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Sarpang