Ghorka earthquake and aftershocks destroy the village of Beding in Rolwaling – renewed concern over the stability of Tsho Rolpa, Nepal

May 12, 2015

On Saturday (9th May) I received the following news from Dr Janice Turner, an anthropologist who has been studying Rolwaling Valley in Nepal for 40 years:

“The Rolwaling people are in crisis because of the earthquake [25th April 2015]. Every house is heavily damaged or destroyed. One helicopter dropped off some tarps and food but they need more. We’re thinking that the threat of Tsho Rolpa, especially if John got involved, might move the govt. to send more aid. We also think somebody needs to check it out before catastrophe is added to an already bad situation. There was another 4.6 aftershock yesterday that brought down most of the remaining buildings. Everyone is camped out in Na because Beding is not safe with major rockfall from the cliffs above. However, Na is more exposed to Tsho Rolpa if it bursts.”

I had a second email also on Saturday from Janice:

“It is possible to walk from Beding to Na. A group of young men left Kathmandu yesterday to clear a path through any landslides (they are said to be worse near Simigaon but there is a high trail along the ridge that can be used). Things were not too bad until the aftershock on Saturday the 9th which brought down the remaining houses. People are living in tents at Na because of rock fall and fear of more avalanches in Beding. Three different helicopters have landed at Na. This would be the easy way to get there and John Reynolds could bring supplies at the same time.”.

I was due to fly to Kathmandu last Saturday (9th May) and should have been flying by helicopter to Beding either today or tomorrow to start a new hazard assessment of the situation at the eastern end of the Rolwaling Valley and especially at Tsho Rolpa, Nepal’s largest and most hazardous glacial lake. Frustratingly, my trip has been cancelled by my client following the earthquake. However, what the people of Rolwaling need more than anything else in the next few weeks is shelter and supplies ahead of the coming monsoon and for some assurances regarding Tsho Rolpa. The community has had to relocate from Beding to Na, but this village is also exposed to anything that might come from Tsho Rolpa, as well as the cold winds that flow down in the afternoons from the glaciers. The people fear further rock avalanches on their destroyed village of Beding downstream from Na and the possibility of floods from Tsho Rolpa upstream of Na.

I am in the process of negotiating with my existing client and with others to see what I can do to help in the next few weeks to see if I can get out to Rolwaling to help the community there. Watch this space for further news.

Tuesday 12th May: Since writing the above (yesterday), there has just been news of another major earthquake in Nepal; this time 7.4 magnitude, with its epicentre just west of the Tama Koshi Valley, and close to Rolwaling and Tsho Rolpa. The epicentre was half-way between Kathmandu and Mt Everest. Given the heightened fears of the Rolwaling Sherpa about a possible flood from Tsho Rolpa after the initial earthquake, this latest event will only have exacerbated their fear. The plight of these people is now desperate.

The photograph shown indicates how the local people have been living since the initial earthquake but before the 4.6 magnitude aftershock last Saturday and before this morning’s event. We are monitoring the situation as best we can and have direct contact with Rolwaling Sherpas living in Kathmandu. We will at the very least be obtaining a very-high resolution image of the Tsho Rolpa area once the snow and cloud conditions have improved (over the next few weeks) but before the onset of the monsoon so that we can undertake a review of the glacial lakes systems at the eastern end of the Rolwaling Valley.

From the latest satellite image available (4th May) the terminus of the Trakarding Glacier has formed a high ice cliff, which is showing signs of calving large blocks of ice. When these fall into the lake they will create displacement waves that will travel the length of the lake. Having lowered the lake level by 3.5 m in 2000, and with the open channel and sluice gates, the engineered works should have the capacity and available freeboard to withstand such displacement waves. This situation will need to be monitored.