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Nim Dorji  | Trongsa

Kuengarabten, once the winter capital of Bhutan, is gradually falling apart.

Cracks of varying sizes on the walls of homes, roads, and footpaths appeared sometime in early November. The cracks in some areas are as big as the circumference of a small PET soft drink bottle.

Residents fear that the cracks would grow bigger and their homes might collapse or even the whole area might slide down to the river.

About 18 households from the locality complained to gewog administration on November 28. 

The gewog officials visited the site and reported to the dzongkhag administration. The dzongkhag sent a team to investigate and assess the damages.

Walls of some houses and the hostel of the nunnery are found with big cracks measuring about four inches and remain vacant.  

Damaged stairs to one of the homes

Damaged stairs to one of the homes

A resident, Wangdi said that when he first saw the cracks, more than a month ago, he felt it was just a minor crack and did some maintenance. Then he found cracks near his cattle shed which spread till the rooms of the ground floor. He then decided to report to the authorities. 

“More people turned up with the same issue,” he said.

Residents suspect the cracks were caused by the vibrations from the Mangdechhu Hydro Power Authority (MHPA) tunnel which runs underneath the village. They said once the MHPA started running water through the tunnel the cracks appeared.

The MHPA officials, dzongkhag administration and the public met on December 9 to deliberate on the issue regarding the damaged properties.

The dzongkhag disaster management is going to carry out risk management to ascertain the serviceability of the damaged structures and strategic preparedness for future emergency.

The meeting decided that the damaged properties will be monitored by dzongkhag administration and the MHPA will provide the required assistance.

The gewog administration will record the damages including properties and update the dzongkhag.

The cracks were also found on the walls, footpath, pavement, and road leading to Kuengarabten Nunnery. The cracks on the ground run from the Kuengarabten Palace to the nunnery which is about five minute climb.

The dzongkhag team, which visited the site, reported that the distortion of the structure was evidence that the substructure of the overburden soil is going through some geological metamorphosis.

It was also reported that the other reason could be due to tunnelling of MHPA under the structures. It suggested that the area needs to be studied by geologists.

Wangdi said that he is worried about the cracks widening and that his house might suddenly collapse at night.

“Although we are thinking of shifting to a safer place we don’t have land in other areas,” Wangdi said.

The affected villagers requested that any measure from the relevant authorities should be taken before the monsoon.

“The cracks on the road and other areas will be filled with water in summer and there is a chance of a landslide,” said another resident, Sonam Dorji.

One of the hostels at the nunnery has developed bigger cracks than others and the nuns are moved to another hostel for safety.  All the nuns could not be shifted due to spare constraints. 

The principal of the nunnery said that the cracks appeared recently around November 28 when the issue was raised with the gewog. The nunnery has decided to dismantle the affected building before its collapse to salvage the timber and other materials.

“We are planning to build retaining wall below the road before it collapses completely,” the principal said.

Drakteng gup Kingzang Dorji said that the gewog was monitoring the cracks weekly and observed that the cracks were widening.

Trongsa dzongdag Tenzin Dorji said that it is important to know what caused the cracks in order to take appropriate measures. “So it’s kept under observation,” he said.

“If we know the cause, we will assess and do the best ratification to assure it will not happen again.”

He said that the dzongkhag has asked MHPA to inspect the tunnel surface near the affected areas for any cracks.

Officials had told residents not to panic but to be cautious and observe the cracks.

The dzongkhag is waiting for the assessment report from the geologist expert who has assessed the site.

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