The Flood and the Damage Done

I left my blog on a slightly ominous note, mentioning that there were some good changes at the land, and some that were “not so much.”

The persistent rains in Surkhet this summer, resulting in horrible flooding, were a fifty year anomaly (though a similar flood happened 28 years ago). It is remarkable to drive around the same routes I used to take daily, seeing small canyons eroded through fields that used to be flat, rivers expanded by 4 times their old width, and roads completely washed away.

The destroyed bridge up to our land, and what was put down in its place.

The destroyed bridge up to our land, and what was put down in its place.

9 months ago, we built a gabion wall at our land, to protect ourselves from the rapid erosion along a ravine cutting through our jungle area. I have never seen water running through the dried ravine, and I’ve frequently wondered how much water actually flowed through during the rainy season. The evidence is now quite explicit: a tremendous amount. And that is a good segue into my next statement: thank god we built the gabion wall when we did, because much of our property would have been pulled into the flowing water during the night of the flood.

The flooding in the Surkhet was so bad this summer that it made BBC News headlines, and even resulted in Kelly being interviewed by the weather channel (https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=829797363709125). The sky bled rain for 2 straight days, and the saturated ground and steep hills simply pushed the water into our valley at a faster and faster rate. One local geologist told Maggie that if it had rained for 3 more hours that night, the entire valley would have been completely ravaged. As it happened, most of the damage here was along the rivers – homes destroyed, bridges collapsed, herds of cattle washed away to their watery grave.

The level of water here is normal - the river widened by a factor of 4. This spot used to be lined with homes.

The level of water here is normal – the river widened by a factor of 4. This spot used to be lined with homes.

When we built the gabion wall, determining our property line, and where to build, was difficult: over the past 30 years, the ravine had drifted and cut a cliff farther and farther into our property, so the land Maggie had purchased two years ago was of a substantially different shape than that of the government plat map. The 1-meter thick gabion wall, then, had to go along the edge of the ravine. At one spot, though, a tree on the other side brought the opposing bank to a narrow neck of just 2 meters wide, from 5 meters up above. Had we owned the tree, we could have cut it down and widened the ravine. The night of the flood, the water rushed past the roots of this tree, tearing away everything around it. But the tree remained and the water had no choice but to dig away, undercutting the base of our gabion wall, four feet underground. The top of the gabion wall slumped under its own weight. The soil behind followed accordingly, and now has the appearance of a small sinkhole. The result is a four foot dip, spread out over 70 feet, along the once-straight top of our wall, something that will certainly need to be repaired before next year’s rains.

The dip of the gabion wall is clearly visible, as is the tree that we should have taken out (if we had owned the land).

The dip of the gabion wall is clearly visible, as is the tree that we should have taken out (if we had owned the land).

From the other side.

From the other side.

Financially, it’s a relatively minor incident amounting to less than $6,000 (my estimate)- none of the wire mesh containers broke, and we already have all of the stone that we need. We’ll just need to hire a large crew of 40 people or so to remove the rocks and wire mesh, and relay everything properly again. And we’ll have to make sure to remove the tree that caused the mess in the first place. In actuality, we’re probably lucky the damage is so small – the rainfall was abnormal, and the gabion wall protected the rest of our property at a critical time.

The "sinkhole" above the wall where soil sluffed away with the wall's bulging.

The “sinkhole” above the wall where soil sluffed away with the wall’s bulging.

Others around the area were not so lucky. I went around Surkhet with Sandip to see as much of the damage as I could and understand the magnitude of what had happened, and talk to the people who still have their homes.

The roof and bricks dangle menacingly above the river bed.

The roof and bricks dangle menacingly above the river bed.

The erosion from the river came to less than one foot from the outside of this house. I wonder if they feel lucky.

The erosion from the river came to less than one foot from the outside of this house. I wonder if they feel lucky.

A house made from mud, gone except for one wall.

A house made from mud, gone except for one wall.

Sandip and I used to take this "road" when we had to get to the lumber yard. The homes and families are gone.

Sandip and I used to take this “road” when we had to get to the lumber yard. The homes and families are gone.

More destruction.

More destruction.

IMG_8696

Cinderblock home, mostly gone. The girl in the bottom right is collecting stones and carrying them to her sisters nearby, where they area breaking them into smaller pieces to sell for construction. They receive 60 cents per 80 pound bag.

And two months later, many of the people who lost everything (homes, land, cattle) are still living in tented communities, scattered within 15 km of Surkhet. Maggie has a good collection of photos of those from a month ago. Conditions have apparently not changed at all:

http://www.blinknow.org/journal/entry/flood-relief-update

 

And, as an added bonus, here is a photo I took yesterday of a water buffalo (with friends) beating the heat just outside our house.

 

Relax party.

Relax party.

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3 comments on “The Flood and the Damage Done

  1. Josh says:

    nice post, Luke! Thank God for the gabion wall, and those who built it. The glass was definitely half full that terrible day for Kopila Valley.

  2. cassidia8 says:

    Yikes! What a close call – good thing you can still rebuild that wall!
    Is your blog title a Neil Young reference?

  3. janemetcalf says:

    thanks for the update on the flood aftermath, luke. your pics and maggie’s take my breath away. i’m sorry that so many people are still living in tents. i liked how you ended your post with the water buffalo and his amphibious friends!

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