KATMANDU, Nepal — A massive landslide killed at least eight people and blocked a mountain river in northern Nepal on Saturday, causing the water to form a lake that was threatening to burst and sweep several villages, officials said.
The death toll could climb because many houses were buried under piles of rock and soil or submerged by the rising water, said police official Arun Chetri, adding that the number of missing people could not be immediately determined.
A man who was among the dozens of people injured by the landslide, which occurred at around 3 a.m. in the Sindhupalchowk area, about 75 miles east of Katmandu, said the death toll could be higher than 100, with dozens of houses in his and the neighboring village buried.
“There are nearly 100 people in the 60 houses in my village and 20 more people in the neighboring village who were buried by the landslide. All of them are likely dead,” Durga Lal Shrestha told The Associated Press from his hospital bed in Katmandu, the capital, where he was flown by helicopter.
Shrestha, who suffered bruises on his face and arms, said that when the landslide occurred, he and his family heard a rumbling sound and then the ground shook like an earthquake.
“The walls in my house caved in, but the roof was fine and that is how we were able to survive,” he said. “When we came out, it was dark and muddy. Everyone was screaming and it was a chaotic situation.”
About 40 people were injured. Besides Shrestha, 10 others were flown to Katmandu for hospital treatment, including a Belgian man the hospital identified as Yan Brvyssu Antony, 46.
By midmorning, the rainfall had stopped and the weather conditions had improved.
After an emergency meeting, the Home Ministry ordered the army to remove the wall of mud and rocks that had created a temporary dam to be removed, and prepare for a disaster if the walls of the newly formed lake burst. The water has already formed a lake 2 miles in length.
Explosives flown in by the army were to be used to release the water, said Gopal Parajuli, the chief government administrator in the area.
The Arniko highway, which connects Nepal to Tibet, was closed after the landslide and villagers were ordered to move to higher ground.
Telephone and electricity lines were disrupted, but radio stations were airing the warnings and police were using loudspeakers, officials said.
Landslides are common in mostly mountainous Nepal during the rainy season, which runs from June through September.
A landslide in May 2012 killed at least 26 people when an avalanche blocked the Seti river in northwestern Nepal. The walls burst, causing a flash flood that swept several downstream villages.