Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cloud Burst and Flash Floods Leh

August 5 2010

I don’t want to scare anybody who reads this especially my momo and dad, but I just experienced the most frightening thing in my life, as I sit back and write this I’m realizing how scary it actually was. For those of you have never been in a flash flood, caused by a cloud burst, as I haven’t been before you cant imagine the devastation I saw around me.

Its been raining hard at night for the past 2 nights, and tonight the rain came hard early on then slowed down to a drizzle. I was out with a friend of mine and we decided to go home early. It was 11:30 pm I had just arrived at my guest house gate when a guy I sort of know pulled up and started to talk to me. We sat there chatting for a bit the rain had stopped completely at this point. When all of a sudden a terrified Australian/Indian shows up and asks for help. His flashlight had died and he said he had terrible night vision and also gotten a scare from the stray dogs that roam the streets. He asked this guy for a ride to his guest house, when they started to pull away I noticed that the driver was really to drunk to drive as he hit a curb. So I offered to drive the Aussie home. This was to be my first time driving on the left side of the road, but since its night and very little traffic and I wasn’t drunk I thought it would be ok. So I drive through Leh to the guesthouse and drop off the Aussie, at this point we are at the bottom of town and the guy asks me to drive to the gas station to get gas I look and he is on empty. I figure what the heck get some practice in on driving on the left.

We arrive at the gas station and its closed but we both know that there is another one 8 km out of town, that should be open, so I go for it. As I start to drive its starts to rain a little again. By the time we get to the pump its pouring. The guy gets out to get the attendant who is huddled in his little station, he comes back and we wait. The rain comes down even more, and the attendant hasn’t come out. We figure he doesn’t want to get wet, after 15 minutes of waiting I decide to drive back to Leh to go home. By this time the road has turned into a river in parts but its still drivable in second gear.

I'm slowly driving back to Leh, at this point I haven't seen any other cars. When all of a sudden we come to a part in the road that has been badly washed away and debris is all over it. I stop to look and see that what I’m looking at used to be mud brick walls and and houses in my path. On the other side of this new raging river are a bunch of cars trying to get through. I tell the guy to drive since I don’t want to damage his car, I figure he cant drive fast so its ok. Well we go through that river but come right into another one with debris everywhere. Its not passable and other cars are all sitting there, we asked a few people what it was like further up the road and they say its not passable. So this guy turns around and we go back over the debris and then we here the thump thump thump of the flat front tire.

I think about my options sitting there in the pouring rain waiting for it to stop and then putting on the spare. But still not being able to pass or I leave the guy and try to find somebody on the other side of the flood that was going back to Leh. I figured I could walk the 3 kms that I had left, since cars couldn’t get over the debris I would be stuck out there all night. I leave this guy, who happens to be a jerk and start walking back. Its raining but not to hard.

I've been walking a few minutes when it comes back full force I seek shelter with these people against a building they were on a bus that was going to Leh. I ask is it going to go after the rain stops nobody knows. When the rain lets up a bit I start walking again. I'm trudging through mud and water, being very careful with my steps, and then my cell phone battery dies and that was my only flashlight. I see a car full of people and ask if I can buy there flashlight. They give it to me and say they don’t want any money and wish me luck trying to get to Leh.

I keep on going, the mud is high up to my calves in some parts and the water as well. I get to the roundabout at the bottom of town where the first gas station is and its like a different place from the hour and a half ago that I was there. Cars have collided into each other and cars and buses stuck in the mud, nothing is moving expect the water raging down the hill. And its starts to rain hard again. Three kashmiri muslim guys in a mini bus call to me to get in and say that I cant go up the hill cause its too dangerous. They are trying to get to the other side of Leh to save there family they tell me. so I ask them if they can drive me up but they seem to scared to go up the hill. I wait with them for awhile until the rain lets up once again.

I see people outside and the other road up the hill doesn't look to bad now. So I get out to see if its passable. I come across four Ladakhi boys who are going to go for it and I jump in with them. Its pretty bad at parts but the people have started clearing the road of debris and we make it to the top of town. When we get to the old bizarre I cant believe my eyes, besides all the debris that has been washed into the street. There are two dogs in the street stuck together fucking. Now why would they do that? LOL! the Ladakhi boys drop me off at my guest and I am so glad that I am safe and that I didn’t have to sleep in a car full of people all night long. I knew if I hadn't attempted the walk I would still be out in the road cold and wet. But in hindsight it was a crazy thing to attempt. I looked at my watch when I got home it was 2:00 am.

PRELUDE: August 6 2010

The morning sky is bright but with some clouds, I take my time getting out of bed and slowly get dressed to go out for breakfast. Its not until I leave my guesthouse and go out into the street that I truly know how much devastation there was the night before.

I notice the shops are all shuttered and I find that strange. I get to my local breakfast spot only to find them closed they tell me that they are shut for 2 days due to morning. I ask how bad it was last night and they tell me that many have died and that a mudslide has taken out homes and the bus station. I started looking around and I see people milling around nobody knowing where to go. The tourists looking for shops to buy something to eat or restaurants that may be open. The locals with a look of despair on their faces. At this point I knew it was bad.

I find a friend who tells me about a restaurant that is open and I go there for some food not knowing if this will be my last meal for awhile. I try calling my friends here but the phone lines are down.

After breakfast I walk down to the bus station, I don't go all the way down. There is a ridge that people have lined up to look down at the devastation. I can't believe my eyes. I have never in my life seen anything like this, only on the news. But to see it with your own eyes and to have lived through it puts it in another prospective. I couldn't hold back tears as many others around me couldn't either. How some people could takes pictures of it was beyond me. I have no pictures to show you all as I couldn't bring myself to take them.

I decided that going down to help in the rescue effort would be to difficult for me and then I see my friends employees I ask about them and the restaurant they say that that everybody is ok but the restaurant got flooded and its full of mud. So I decide to go help clean up there instead.

Evening comes and another menacing clouds lurks high above the beautiful town of Leh. Suddenly there is panic, somebody had screamed that the river was rising and that the water was coming. People start to run but don't know where to go. I run to my guesthouse which I believe is safe. Nothing happens but you can see in everybody's face they are scared. Some people even run to higher ground they run up to the hill where the palace sits. But that isn't even an option for me I have seen inside the palace and it doesn't need much for it to fall over so I decide to stay put at my guesthouse. I go to sleep fully dressed and with my bag ready in case of rapid escape. The night passes with only a little rain and I awake once again to another beautiful day in Leh.

August 9th 2010

There is still a lot of work to be done. A huge relief effort is on its way. I will be buying food, clothes and blankets for the needy. If anybody wants to help with a donation you can pay into my paypal account is the address.

I'm also working with the locals to organize a concert for the flood victims. Today almost all is back to normal in the towns , but the statistics are heartbreaking.

140 dead
500 still missing
1000 homes destroyed.

Thankfully there are many western tourists here who are very organized and capable of helping.