By Niha Masih,
NEW DELHI — A piece of a glacier broke off high in the Indian Himalayas on Sunday, causing a deadly flash flood that smashed through a hydroelectric power plant and destroyed homes, with over 150 people reported missing.
India rushed disaster response teams to Uttarakhand, a mountainous state in the northern part of the country, and so far 10 bodies have been recovered.
Ashok Kumar, Uttarakhand’s police chief said the avalanche occurred at 11 a.m. in the morning and the authorities evacuated several villages downstream.
Television channels aired footage of gushing water barreling down a narrow canyon in the mountains and sweeping away the power plant at its base. A second state-run power plant in the vicinity also suffered extensive damage.
Most of those missing were workers at the two power plants. In a dramatic rescue effort, armed forces personnel dug a ditch to rescue more than a dozen workers trapped in a tunnel. Videos of the operation showed them pulling out a man who flung his arms in the air victoriously.
Girish Joshi, a consultant with the state’s disaster management authority said an eight mile stretch of the river was affected but that there was no further danger. “The river levels are normal now,” he said. Authorities in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh said they were on alert and monitoring water levels.
This frame grab from video provided by KK Productions shows a massive flood of water, mud and debris flowing at Chamoli District , Feb.7, 2021.
The disaster-prone state had witnessed one of the worst floods in 2013 that claimed thousands of lives. Experts point to the effects of climate change and unchecked construction in the region for being behind such disasters.
Anjal Prakash, a professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and part of a United Nations panel on climate change said that “this looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming.” He pointed out that the Himalayan region is one of the least monitored and this event shows how vulnerable it could be.
Farooq Azam, a specialist in Glaciology and Hydrology, at Indian Institute of Technology in Indore said that glacial bursts are “rare.” He said while more information was needed about today’s event, “climate change driven erratic weather patterns like increased snowfall and rainfall, warmer winters has led to the melting point of a lot of snow.”
Trivendra Singh Rawat, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, said that experts will look into the cause of the disaster but the priority now is to “save lives,” while Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the nation “prays for everyone’s safety.”