August 6, 2010.
Leh. The day before it was very hot. Then after, the next day, it was a bit cloudy and in the evening more cloudy and rain started at midnight. Ravi and Buddha decided after they closed the restaurant, rather than walk the 5 minutes back to their stuffy apartment, they would just push some tables together and sleep there in their sleeping bags. After a while, the storm became violent, thunder rattled the windows and lightening made it momentarily seem like daylight.
Bus Stand, Leh. At 11:30 PM, three Nepali workers arrive back in Leh from a trek. Two suggest they stay in a guesthouse. Too tired to follow them, Chandun, the cook for the trek, slept in a bus inside the gated area of the bus stand, a lighted parking lot for the buses when they are not in use. When the water rushed through the gates, buses were swept together and jammed against a concrete bus shelter. The water battered the buses back and forth against the concrete shelter, against a swaying light pole. Chandun, inside the shaking bus, holds on tight, watching outside as cars and people swept by in the flood.
Saboo Village. Tashi was so exhausted that day, she went to bed early, 7 PM. It was just drizzling then with a partly cloudy sky with thick black clouds. It was still raining when her husband Namgil came to bed at 10 PM. Around midnight all of the sudden the storm seemed alarmingly more violent with lightening and thunder, continuously for 15 minutes. Namgil decided that they and their son, 13-year old Jigmet, should get in the car and drive to higher ground. After reaching higher ground, they could hear and feel shaking as if there was an earthquake, but it was the cloudburst landslide. In 15 minutes it became calm and still everywhere, they can only hear the voice of dogs, scared.
Nunnery, Ladakhi Nuns Association, out near the airport. Ani Angmo recalled that evening as being very strange with so much rain and thunder. Suddenly, around midnight, it took on the force of a volcano, seemingly erupting in water, thunder, and lightening. Nuns were crying and screaming out of fear, calling out to each other, “Are you okay?”
Markha Valley, near Sku Village. Three American tourists are walking through the Shingo Valley a narrow, high walled valley. The flood came, washing them away. Only one body was recovered from the mud, stripped naked through the force of the landslide. Rescuers bury the body right there where they found him.
High mountains. Sonam is guiding a trekking group from Germany. At high altitude there is snow, not rain and they have no choice but to hunker down and wait. They have no idea of the havoc occurring in the valley below.
In Saboo Village a gully that guides water from the mountains into the valley becomes too small to hold the rush of silt, boulders, water and mud rushing down hill. The landslide debris breeches the banks of the gulley on the east side collapsing houses, sending them down stream with trees and boulders towards Choglamsar. Houses that withstand the onslaught are filled with sludge that traps their occupants. These two are the hardest hit villages around Leh, plus Shey, Nimo, Pheyang, Taru, Nimoling villages.
At dawn, Ravi and Buddha cautiously walk towards the bus stand in Leh, where they hear the most damage has been done. They are sickened and confused at the carnage: dead people, dead animals, people walking around covered in mud, in shock. They had never seen dead people before. They help find and dig out bodies. Ravi said, “It made me sick from the inside.”
Late afternoon, Chandun eventually caught up with his friends Ravi and Buddha at their restaurant. Ravi described him as still scared, having “survived nearly dying”, shaking with residual anxiety.
Namgil and Tashi returned to their home, fully expecting to find it irreparably damaged. Amazingly, it was still standing, untouched and undamaged, on the west side of the gully. On the east side of the gully and further south in the valley is devastation. They went to the next village, Choglamsar, and the houses were completely disappeared. There were two women screaming helphelphlep from a ditch. They were so covered in mud they could not move. Namgil said to walk 100 meters it took 1.5 hours struggling through belly-high mud. People had been sleeping, the thick mud of the landslide covered them in their sleep and they couldn’t stand up.
In one Saboo household the entire family was killed as they slept. The only survivor was a daughter away at college in Jammu.
Tashi, Jigmet, and Namgil go from house to house and free people who are trapped and struggling. In one house a woman is stuck on the second floor of her house with three small children They wade through waist high mud of the first floor to get to them on the second floor. Namgil: “The kids were in a traumatic condition.” They took them back to their intact house and bathed them. The adults calmed them down and tried to normalize the situation by playing with them, trying to take it as a joke – “Look at all that water!” — so the children would not be further traumatized. Within a few hours they were out of the trauma and playing normally as kids.
At 4:30 AM the nuns begin to carefully, but purposefully walk to Choglomsar where the younger nuns are housed. They are walking in mud up to their knees. They see many dead people, dead animals, cars thrown askew on the road. There is blood mixed in with the mud. Some people wander in shock, covered in mud and blood, naked. Ten hours after they started out, the nuns finally make it to Choglamsar and find that all the young nuns are okay.
Sonam leads his group down into the valley. Some tourists immediately head for the airport and home. Others join the clean up. Leaving his group at a hotel, Sonam goes home to Thiksay to be with his family. They are safe, having fled to the mountains behind their house. They are staying in tents for some days.
For weeks afterwards every time it rains people get scared and head for the mountains. The families of itinerate workers beg their sons to come home. Restaurants find it hard to operate. The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh reports: In the areas worst affected, local people lost their houses and animals and in the Ladakh region alone approximately 310 people lost their lives. Many valuable summer crops were destroyed. Tents were provided as temporary accommodations and regional and international N.G.O.’s stepped in to distribute food relief: barley, wheat, rice and dhal to see those most affected through the harsh winter months.