Six children lost their mother 

As the 10 victims of the recent landslide in the highlands of Ri-Druzhi were cremated yesterday at Gasa’s Zabsel Duthrue, Sonam Wangchuk, 29, from Lungo village tried to remain strong.

He lost seven members of his family.

The landslide at the midnight of June 16 claimed his wife, elder sister and her husband, younger sister and her husband, and two maternal aunts.

His younger brother is also injured in the accident and is admitted in the national referral hospital.

Sonam Wangchuk said he has to be strong not only for his two children aged 9 and six, but also for his younger sister’s children aged seven and three. “I have to look after them until they become independent.”

His elder sister and husband leaves behind two children aged 15 and seven, who would be taken care by their paternal grandparents or uncle.

All children were at Lungo with their grandparents when the parents left to collect cordyceps after collection permits were issued on May 17.

Sonam Wangchuk was also in the highlands, but returned home two days before the accident because of some work.

He said that when he heard about the accident and that 10 people died, he told himself that two or three of his family members couldn’t have died. “I did not expect all of them to die.”

He went to the site with de-suups and other staff of Laya that night. “I was telling myself that they wouldn’t be my family members when I was traveling.”

Another Lungo resident, Thinley, lost his 40-year-old wife, 19-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son-in-law. His daughter was the youngest to have died in the accident.

Thinley was also injured and admitted in the national referral hospital.


A narrow escape 

When the landslide hit the 17 tents of the highlanders of Laya in Ri-Duzhi at 1am on June 16, Lhamo, 32, found herself clinging to a rock near her tent. In few seconds, she was neck-deep into the muddy rubbles.

She said she stayed there for another 90 minutes.

“I woke up to a noise like a thunderbolt. My husband jumped off the tent and escaped but I couldn’t,” she said.

Luckily for Lhamo, her husband saw her hands before she was completely buried under the rubbles. “The landslide washed off the tent over my head. I tried to raise my head. My mouth was filled with mud. I threw that and called for help,” Lhamo said.

Her husband and five other men tried to take her out of the debris. There was continuous water flowing over her head. The men dug drains and redirected the water flow to avoid more debris on her head.

“Although they had dug me out until my shoulder, they couldn’t pull me out, as there was a rock behind me and I couldn’t move,” Lhamo said.

She couldn’t recall much of the rescue effort, but she said that she had difficulty breathing. When the men finally managed to take her out, her husband fainted. “He didn’t realize, but he was also injured. I think he was really worried and exhausted.”

Around 6:30am, the chopper reached the site and airlifted her to the national referral hospital. She was sent home on June 19 with two others. “I am better now, but my whole body aches. There were no internal injuries,” Lhamo said.



After the accident occurred, besides the other highlanders at the site, it was a team of desuups from Laya that helped retrieve the bodies.

According to desuup coordinator, Kinley Dorji, 25 ex-monk desuups reached the site to help in retrieving the bodies from nearby areas.

There are 37 desuups in Laya.

“I was proud of my friends. Even civil servants helped like us without any complaints,” Laya mangmi, Tshewang, said.

Kuensel learned that the rescue team from Thimphu who reached the site with the chopper directed the desuups at the site. Two women from Bhutan Emergency Aeromedical Retrival (BEAR) team also reached past 6am.

Khatoed-Laya Member of Parliament (MP), Tenzin, and Gasa’s National Council member, Dorji Khandu, also were among the first to respond to the accident. MP Tenzin reached the site in his desuung uniform to search for the bodies on June 16, MP Dorji Khandu remained at the hospital in Thimphu.

Meanwhile, about 50 family members of the victims attended the funeral yesterday.

All expenses for the funeral until the cremation were borne by the dzongkhag administration.

The response from the dzongkhag to help the bereaved family members came as a relief to many, as they were still grieving.

“I am really thankful to His Majesty The King, the dzongkhag and gewog officials and all other rescue team members,” Sonam Wangchuk said.

He said that although he is going through a difficult phase, his burden is lessened as the dzongkhag administration had taken care of all the funeral expenses and works.

Another Lungo resident, Passang Dorji, said he never witnessed such a tragic incident in the past and also the way the dzongkhag has helped really benefitted them.

Gasa dzongkhag administration is currently collecting details of the deceased and their family members.

Gasa dzongrab, Dorji Gyeltshen, said after compiling the details of the school-going children, their guardians and source of income, the report would be filed for kidu.

By Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

Edited by Tashi Dema