Landslide in Hunza causes alarm

May 18, 2010

A massive landslide was reported in Hunza, causing a fresh wave of alarm over the overflow of water in Atta Abad lake.

Officials are warning people to remain away from the area and the police has been orderded to cordon off the area. A similar landslide at the village of Atta Abad occurred during snowstorms in January.

The landslide caused debris to block the River Hunza, which in turn prevented water from flowing downstream and created what is now referred to as Atta Abad lake.

The water level in the lake has risen to an alarming level, prompting officials to suspend boat services, thereby cutting off the link between Hunza Nagar and Gilgit. This is posing difficulties for locals of forty villages who are heavily dependent on Gilgit for basic commodities.

"We are preparing for a caseload of 40,000 that could be affected by flooding," Nadeem Ahmed, chairman of national disaster management authority, told a press conference in Islamabad. There were 4,000 people in the villages of Gulmit, Ayeenabad and Shishkat, where water had submerged some areas and from people have moved to safer areas, he said.

"Most of the people had gone to live with their relatives or sheltered in school buildings, very few have opted to live in tents but the government is providing rations to all of them," Ahmed said.

"An early warning system has been established in the area and people would also be warned via SMS if there is any danger," he added.

The official said that a ferry service to connect the people stranded due to lake formation had been stopped today because of rain forecast. Water in the 332-feet (101-metre) deep and 16-kilometre (10-mile) long lake was rising by one meter (yard) daily.

"The water could start flowing downstream through spill ways in the next five to six days. Our aim is that there should be no loss of life, though many houses and buildings would be submerged," Ahmed said.

Authorities had ordered downstream residents to leave by Thursday to schools and health clinics more than 30 metres above the riverbed.

According to experts, more than 36 villages downstream can come underwater if the dam breaks its banks.

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