he cracks first started to appear in November 2002, when a 6.5-magnitude earthquake caused a fissure to open on the side of the Hunza Valley near the village of Attabad. A further quake on 8 October 2005, this one measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, opened up the cracks even wider.
And then, on 4 January, as snowstorms swept across the region, the cracks opened right up, and a two-kilometre-long section of the mountainside slumped into the Hunza Valley. Numerous houses were buried, 20 people were killed and dozens more were injured. An estimated 1,400 people were rendered homeless in the landslide’s immediate aftermath.
But the consequences of the rock fall were to extend far from the site of the landslide itself. The rock and debris spread out across the entire width of the valley, rising to a height of lake steadily grew, both in area and depth, eventually submerging the villages of Ayeenabad, Shishkat and Gulmit, and causing irreparable damage to property, agricultural land and valley-bottom forests.
About 22 kilometres of the Karakoram Highway were inundated or otherwise severely damaged. On the downstream side of the slide, the Hunza River ran virtually dry, damaging both valley-bottom agriculture and the river’s fish.
Four villages – Attabad Payeen, Attabad Bala, Sarat and Ayeenabad – were affected by the landslide in the initial phases, while about 20,000 people were cut off from the southern part of the Hunza Valley and the rest of the country.
Inhabitants of Ahmadabad and Ayeenabad on the upstream side of the barrier were evacuated to escape the rising waters. The food and fuel needs of those trapped by the lake in
The landslide blocked both the Karakoram Highway – the only land link for vehicular traffic between Pakistan and China, and the main trade route between these two countries – and the Hunza River some 160 metres at the saddle and blocking both the Karakoram Highway – the only land link for vehicular traffic between Pakistan and China, and the main trade route between these two countries – and the Hunza River. As water piled up against the blockage, a lake formed upstream and the river dried up downstream.
Large rocks continued to fall from the mountain tops for several weeks after the initial landslide. Meanwhile, the extremely cold temperatures were initially met through a helicopter service run by the Pakistan Army and the Aga Khan Development Network. Later, boats began plying the lake, ferrying people, goods and even loaded trucks.
f looding f e ars As summer approached and temperatures rose, snow and glaciers located upstream from the lake began to melt, causing iak
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52 www.geographical.co.uk december 2010