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History of Langtang, the Valley Destroyed by the Nepal Earthquake

Posted in: 28th Sep, 2015 Post Category: Blog of Nepal

The Aftermath

In only minutes, most buildings in the Langtang Valley were leveled. Hundreds of people were dead, many more injured. In Bamboo Village, Kyanjin Gomba, and other small settlements, survivors slowly began to realize just how devastating the earthquake had been. But no one was prepared for what they would find in Langtang Village.

The remains of a wood and stone house in small village of Singdum, just hours after the earthquake unleashed multiple avalanches upon the Langtang valley region. Saturday, April 25, 2015.

On April 25 of this year, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal at 11:56 a.m., local time. Half a million homes across the country were leveled and more than 8,500 people were killed, including 19 climbers and Sherpas who died in an avalanche that roared through Mount Everest Base Camp. While images of the devastation in Kathmandu were broadcast around the world, little was heard from people in the Langtang Valley, which sits roughly 40 miles northeast of the capital. The valley is comprised of 20,000-foot Himalayan peaks that tower 8,000 to 10,000 feet over several small settlements. The mountains—and the hiking, biking, and climbing opportunities that accompany such terrain—have long made the area a popular adventure destination.
By late April, with tourism season in full swing, there were approximately 600 people spread throughout the valley, including Bamboo Village, in the west end, Kyanjin Gomba, in the east, and Ghodatabela, the site of a small army outpost between those two spots. Most visitors, however, were in Langtang Village, the closest thing to a town in the valley and the location of over a dozen teahouses and a cheese factory. Langtang Village was full of locals; the night before the earthquake, many of them had traveled to gather at a monastery for a traditional ghewa ceremony, marking the reincarnation of a recently deceased valley resident.

When the earthquake struck, a combination of factors—snow-covered peaks, the height and steepness of the mountains looming over settlements, and the full occupancy of many teahouses—was disastrous. In an instant, the tremors dislodged parts of the hanging glaciers on Langtang Lirung and Langtang II, two of the area’s highest peaks. As the glaciers hurtled down, they shattered and then picked up more snow and debris. What the earthquake didn’t destroy, the avalanche did. It buried 116 houses and generated pressure waves with winds of up to 93 miles per hour—strong enough to flatten forests on the opposite side of the valley. It’s estimated that 308 people died, including 176 Langtang residents, 80 foreigners, and 10 army personnel. More than 100 bodies were never recovered. Approximately 300 people were evacuated after four days of being cut off by the numerous landslides and avalanches.

Of all the badly hit areas in Nepal, nowhere was the destruction so complete as in the Langtang Valley. And yet, in the intervening months, few media outlets have spoken with those who witnessed the devastation firsthand. Outside sought the surviving foreigners who had since returned home, along with Nepalis living in tents outside Kathmandu, and found a story not just of ruin in the aftermath but of chaos—marked by conflicts between locals and tourists as they attempted to collect supplies and food, a bias toward Westerners during the rescue efforts, and a disaster response that was haphazard at best.

Rescue

As survivors in the valley struggled to find provisions and prepare for evacuation, family members and officials tried to reach them. But with trails blocked and telecommunications down, even the Nepalese army had little success. Groups were still spread between a camp of approximately 150 people above Langtang Village and roughly 150 others below, near Bamboo Village and the army outpost at Ghodatabela; many of those in Kyanjin Gomba had descended to Langtang, though some stayed. The first helicopters to arrive were privately contracted to pick up people who had insurance policies—primarily NGO workers and foreigners—which angered many locals and uninsured tourists, who wanted to evacuate the most seriously injured. When army helicopters finally arrived, the conflict over who should go first continued. It would take four days to evacuate everyone still in the valley.

Locals rush towards a helicopter as army personnel end the rescue operation as the IAF’s last helicopter takes off from Langtang Valley.

 

After the Evacuations

It took four days for helicopters to ferry out the approximately 200 survivors. Many slide victims elsewhere in the Langtang Valley spent a night or two in caves and made for the army post in Ghodatabela. From there they were evacuated by Wednesday, April 29. (A small number stayed in Kyanjin Gomba and were not evacuated until after a large May 12 aftershock.) Most people in the Langtang Valley were flown to Dhunche and either walked to Kalikasthan, which is connected by road to Kathmandu, or waited for another flight to the capital. Of the dead, approximately 150 bodies have been recovered—most of them locals. Approximately 150 remain buried. Today, most of those who were evacuated are still in camps near Kathmandu, though approximately 80 have moved back to Langtang Valley. While some are focused on making a new life in the capital, many more are concerned with the future of the valley.

Four Nepalese Army members use a makeshift stretcher during the rescue.


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