Kathmandu: Rescuers in Nepal struggled to retrieve bodies on Sunday amid fears of a cholera outbreak after monsoon rains swept away houses, killing at least 85 people and stranding thousands more, officials said.
Torrential rain last week led to multiple landslides and flooding, leaving a trail of death and destruction in the Himalayan nation.
The rains have damaged roads across the country’s western plains bordering India, forcing officials to use helicopters to rescue stranded people and deliver emergency supplies.
As the weather cleared on Sunday, improving visibility after three days of incessant rain, army officials ran helicopter sorties to evacuate some 20,000 people stranded in badly-hit western districts, said national disaster management chief Yadav Prasad Koirala.
“We are very concerned about a possible outbreak of cholera due to the bodies lying underwater,” Koirala said.
“We have mobilised health workers to set up camps and provide people with clean drinking water and dry food.”
Cholera is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with human faeces.
As water levels slowly recede, rescuers have started moving people from their damaged homes into temporary shelters, but large areas remained submerged, preventing helicopters from landing so workers can search for 113 people still missing, Koirala said.
Villagers in Surkhet, the worst-affected district, described their horror at being awoken by news that the nearby Bheri river was overflowing early on Friday.
“My neighbours woke me up, I gathered my family and we just ran uphill to save ourselves...I didn’t even have time to cut my cattle loose so they could flee”, farmer Prem Bahadur Pun said by phone.
“By morning, our house was gone, the cattle was gone, my land was gone. I have lost everything,” Pun said.
About 150 people from his village managed to escape to safety by running uphill, Pun said, but many others were not as lucky.
“So many people are missing...including one of my neighbours, his wife and two grandchildren,” he said.
As the anxious villagers waited for help, many were already suffering from fever though no symptoms of diarrhoea had been observed yet, Pun said.
“No one [from the government] has come here yet, meanwhile some people are getting sick... We have some medicine, but what will we do when it runs out?”
The deaths come two weeks after the worst landslide in over a decade smashed into hamlets in the hilly north-east and killed 156 people.
Heavy rain in Uttarakhand state in neighbouring India has claimed at least 24 lives since Friday, reviving memories of a deluge last year that killed more than 5,000 people in the same region.
Media reports on Sunday said several districts in the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were also flooded after heavy rain in the catchment areas of Himalayan rivers and the release of excess water from barrages in Nepal.
“Water has started to recede but problems persist on the Nepal side,” the Times of India quoted Deepka Singhal, a senior administrative officer in Uttar Pradesh, as saying.
Hundreds die every year in floods and landslides during the monsoon season in South Asia.