Rinzin Wangchuk

Officials from Druk Green Power Corporation, dzongkhag disaster management, and gewog will hike up the stream today to determine the breakage point and trace other factors that led to the flood in Ungar. 

“Our assessment team is waiting at Ungar for the sky to clear to hike up towards Rodungla pass,” said Druk Green Power Corporation’s (DGPC) Managing Director Dasho Chewang Rinzin. “Once they reach a specific point, the team will use a drone to identify the source of the flash flood.”

He said that the team is expected to start their hike early today morning if there is no rain or cloud cover. The team hiked up more than four kilometers on July 23 but had to return because of poor visibility and rain.

“After hiking for more than four kilometers, the team used a drone to identify the origin of the flash flood,” a source said. “However, the drone could not obtain a clear picture due to the bad weather.”

The Ungar flood, which claimed 23 lives on July 20 evening, was one of the worst disasters in recent memory.

The flood swept away DGPC’s guest house, which was hired from the Ungar community to serve as the site office, four residential blocks with five units each, a de-suup’s official quarter, three boys hostels, two girls hostels, one dining hall, one kitchen, and two toilets.

The camps were set up for officials and workers for the construction of a 32MW powerhouse at the Yungichhu hydropower project. The flash flood also damaged paddy fields and killed 10 cattle. 

DGPC’s machinery, including excavators, air compressors, bumping machines, rod bending, and other machines, including eight private light vehicles, were lost to the flood.

Dasho Chewang Rinzin said that all machinery and private vehicles have comprehensive insurance. “We don’t know the exact worth of machines lost to the floods as officials are still assessing the losses,” he said.

It is suspected that sudden heavy rain on that evening caused landslides along the course of Nyewanchhu, obstructing the flow of the stream and overflowing down the steep incline of the source, causing the flash flood.

Some said that the flash flood could have been triggered when many small tributaries upstream swelled and formed an artificial lake, which later burst due to heavy rain.

Nyewanchhu is a stream that flows down by the camps, where workers and families of Druk Hydro Energy Limited, a subsidiary company of DGPC, and a de-suup lived. “Nyewangchhu is a small tributary of Yungichhu that hardly provides enough water for workers to drink,” Dasho Chewang Rinzin said, adding that the camps were set up at the present location last year after assessing the safety of the site.

Dasho Chewang Rinzin said he had visited the site many times and never seen any risk of flood. Moreover, Ungar chiwog is considered a safe place as the villagers have never experienced such a disaster before.

Even a flood hazard assessment of the dzongkhag carried out by the Flood Engineering and Management Division, erstwhile Ministry of Works and Human Settlement in 2019, had not identified or mapped Ungar and Meadtsho gewog as the prone areas.

However, considering the recent spate of natural disasters, it is now validated that Lhuentse is prone to landslides and flash floods. After almost 22 years, Lhuentse has had to face repeated natural disasters since 2017 which claimed 28 lives in 10 months.

Five people lost their lives, and two were injured when a village house in Jasabu, Kurtoe gewog, was hit by a flash flood on the early morning of November 30 last year.

Of the eight gewogs, the Flood Engineering and Management Division identified three gewogs of Tshenkhar, Gangzor, and Khoma as prone to flood.

However, the study focused only on Kurichhu sub-basin along the river valley of Kurichhu at Autsho, Tshenkhar. The study also found that many villages scattered and located along the Kurichhu valley from Gangzor gewog to Autsho in the floodplains are exposed to high risk of flooding.

Meanwhile, the rescue team labored through the debris and muck and recovered eight bodies, and 15 bodies are still missing as of yesterday.