My friend Josh Schrei happened to be traveling in Ladakh, a historically Tibetan region in northern India, when the area was hit by uncharacteristic rain storms that prompted massive flooding and mudslides. It is likely that over 1,000 people were killed in the landslides, which fundamentally changed the region. The quotes that follow from Josh are from a series of emails he’s sent, though I expect if he gets the opportunity, he will post them online. Josh reports (Update: at the Huffington Post):
If the scope of the devastation isn’t clear or is overshadowed by Gansu, let me just say that all the economic development that Ladakh has enjoyed over the last 15 years is totally gone. Every river valley and over a dozen villages are either effected or totally wiped out. Death toll will be above 1,000, and, given the remoteness here, probably never accurate. As of today the tourist death toll is 23. It is going to take them years and years to rebuild and they need help.
He describes the rarity of the situation:
I returned from Pangong to Leh to find something rather unusual. It had been raining there, which it almost never does. Ladakh is a desert, absolutely dry and free of vegetation, the lush river valleys fed entirely by Himalayan snowmelt. The monsoon weather of the Indian subcontinent is blocked by the vast wall of mountains to the south. For there to be successive days of rain was almost unheard of. I asked my guesthouse owner about it, and he was unequivocal in his answer. “It never does this. Global warming.”
And here is Josh’s description of the storm’s aftermath:
In one hour, the land of Ladakh was forever changed. This vast country shifted. Every valley in the Ladakh range of the Himalaya saw high mountains dislodge themselves downwards. Tragically, the way Ladakh is constructed, every village clings to a river valley of mountain snowmelt, and when these mountains dislodge themselves downwards, there are people living underneath.
The next morning I heard from my guesthouse owner that there had been “some problem” at the bus station from the rain. Instinctively, I grabbed my camera and headed down. As I went, rumors grew of the scale of the “problem.” One person along the route said that the Leh bus station was “gone.”
Yes, the bus station was gone. A vast river of mud and rock had torn through central Leh, ripping apart houses, demolishing shops, flattening structures to the ground. Buses were tossed about like toys, slammed up against buildings, wedged under trucks, flattened and twisted in incomprehensible shapes. As I walked down the length of the slide, I realized that it was far more than the bus station. The cascade extended all the way down the valley, 2 miles or more, and much of lower Leh was, well, utterly ruined. I saw a schoolyard buried under 8 feet of mud, its basketball hoops just managing to peer over the top of the slide. I saw bloated cows tossed about, and one lonely, dazed donkey, wandering through the wreckage, covered in dried mud and bleating sadly, perhaps just to hear the sound of his own voice. And yes, I saw bodies. Leh hospital was quickly lined with them. Bulldozers lifted splayed-limbed victims out of heaps and heaps of mud.
Josh has already spent days helping dig out from under the wreckage. He asks that if you want to help in the relief efforts, you can make a donation to the Ladakhi Buddhist Association, the main relief organization on the ground, at www.gadenrelief.org.