GILGIT/KARACHI: As another landslide plunged into Attabad Lake on Tuesday, the Hazara division is expected to bear the worst brunt of an imminently approaching breach of the massive artificial lake.
Officials suspended boat service, the only current form of travelling downstream across the blocked Karakoram Highway (KKH), citing unsafe conditions. “We will start helicopter service in place of boat service,” said Wazir Baig, Speaker Gilgit-Baltistan assembly to The Express Tribune. “You see, landslides are constantly occurring and we can’t afford that people further suffer due to these kinds of incidents,” he added.
According to reports, landslides triggered by torrential rains cut off Gilgit-Baltistan from the rest of the country due to road blocks on at least four points near the Kohistan and Chilas areas. Tuesday’s landslide occurred at exactly the same point where the original avalanche blocked the Hunza River in January, creating the artificial lake that has inundated several villages upstream. Wazir Baig, along with deputy commissioner Hunza, was inspecting relief work at the site when heavy rock fall and boulders shook the area and struck the Attabad Lake, threatening a possible overflow within a few days time.
Authorities have warned that a rupture in the barrier could submerge at least 36 villages downstream, including Sarad and Mayon in the surrounding Nagar Tehsil, and as far as Kohistan and Chilas. People have said that government officials alerted various villages downstream, making evacuation announcements through loudspeakers in mosques. The impending flash flood is threatening nearly 18,000 living people downhill, possibly impacting areas all the way to Tarbela Dam.
At the same time, people are continuing to move towards areas above the lake. “Eighteen shops and 40 houses in our village have been evacuated so far,” said Nisar Ahmad from Gulmit – a town that is already partly flooded, reported PPI. “People have even dismantled the wooden ceilings, doors and windows of their houses and are moving them to safer areas since they fear that if the lake bursts its banks, nothing will be saved. Villagers have received too little help from the government which for weeks has been saying all is under control,” said Farman Gojali, another resident of Gulmit.
Meanwhile, DCOs of Kohistan, Batagram, Hazara, Manshera, Abbotabad and Haripur districts also met on Tuesday to review possible complications arising from the dangerous situation. About 25 feet short of the 30 meter spillway dug by the Army, the Attabad Lake is likely to cross the barrier by May 26. Hazara Division stands to lose worst of all, while countless bridges constructed over the river Sindh were equally at risk, reported a news agency.
“The resulting chain reaction may also damage installations on the Indus River of which the Hunza River is a tributary,” the head of the flood forecasting division of the Pakistan Meteorological Office, Hazrat Mir, was quoted as saying in a report by IRIN, United Nations. Official statistics report that the lake’s current water level was at 348.6 feet while the inflow recorded on Tuesday was 3.8 feet. The length of the lake expanded beyond 28 kilometers.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.