An army battalion has been deployed in Hunza Nagar as relief agencies struggle to support villagers displaced by the surging waters of Attabad lake.
As the water level in the Attabad lake continues to rise, authorities have issued a deadline to 300 families of 18 villages in the surrounding area to evacuate by Monday.
The lake has now expanded to 23 kilometers submering several nearby areas. Gulmat village has been flooded. This is the fifth village to be affected by water from the lake. Meanwhile, goverment authorities are making efforts to relocate the hundreds of people from water affected areas, but those being moved are not happy with the arrangements. They say an alarm system should be in place to give early warning of impending damages. Parts of the Karakoram Highway have also been damaged by the water, and vehicles are being shifted to safer areas on boats.
Earlier, Authorities said that the lake can burst its banks anytime this month, which could submerge dozens of downstream villages in the Hunza Valley. The lake was formed on January 4 when a massive landslide blocked the flow of the Hunza river, submerging the strategic Karakoram Highway (KKH) and several villages.
At least 20 people and a large number of cattle were also killed in the tragedy. Rumours of a breach in the lake have also set alarm bells ringing for the people of Gilgit who are now shifting to higher grounds for fear of flooding, but authorities claim there is no threat to Gilgit even if the lake bursts its banks. As the artificial lake continued to expand, hundreds of families in Hunza and Gojal areas had fled their homes. However, residents of Gilgit, which is 130 kilometres away from Attabad, were reluctant to move out, believing that they would not be affected even if the dam was breached. But now they are panicking.
“Gilgit is witnessing a spillover effect of the mass exodus from downstream villages of Gojal,” said an official of a non governmental organisation. Dozens of families from the villages of Jutial, Sakwar, Konodas, Ampheri and Kashrote, have shifted to high grounds in the face of, what they call, a “looming disaster”. The process hasn’t stopped as more families are in the line. “No one knows what is going to happen tomorrow,” Hafiz, a resident of lower-Jutial, told The Express Tribune.
Sources said that an NGO also evacuated dozens of people from Chilmis Das village on Saturday. Officials in the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) claim that if the lake bursts its banks, flash floods will reach Gilgit in more than four hours. This means residents of Gilgit would have sufficient time to shift to secure areas, they say. But even this assurance has failed to remove the apprehensions of Gilgit residents. The Gilgit-Baltistan government is blaming opposition parties for, what it calls, “rumour mongering” in the region. It has asked the people to stay calm and don’t panic as there is no possibility of a sudden breach in the dam.
In Hazara Division, authorities have directed people in downstream Shangla, Kohistan and Battagram districts to move to higher ground due to an imminent breach in the Attabad lake. They have also started registration of the displaced families, so that they could be provided relief. Thousands of people are residing on the banks of the Indus river in the densely populated Bisham Town and its adjoining areas.
People living in Sindh Colony, Bisham Bazaar, Shang, Mera, Dandai, and Thakot, besides those in Pattan, Dubair and Jemal areas in Kohistan district are now moving out. Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah has said that special committees are working to provided maximum relief to the affected people. “We are fully alert. Special camps have been set up for displaced families, where all facilities are being provided,” he told the state media.
Read The Express Tribune's story on the Spillway in Attabad Lake here: Spillway in Attabad Lake complete to ease pressure
(ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM WIRES)