A glacier burst in Raine village of Chamoli District in Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday morning caused flash floods, wreaking havoc and destroying everything in its path. It brought forth a humongous deluge of sludge affecting people and property on the riverbanks of Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers (which are all intricately linked tributaries of the Ganga), during the middle of the day triggering an avalanche, thus causing widespread panic and catastrophe in the high mountain areas.
|| Sajeeda Feroz
At least 20 people have been killed and over 150 are missing after a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off. Of the 20 bodies recovered in Uttarakhand, only two have been identified so far.
Two power projects – NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project and the entire Rishi Ganga Hydel Project have been extensively damaged due to flooding with a number of labourers trapped in tunnels. Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar told the media that at the main disaster site, a bridge linking 13 villages located close to the border with China has been washed away.
A joint team comprising the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the National Disaster Response Force personnel (NDRF) are continuing the search operation for trapped labourers.
An ITBP official said that 39 persons including workers and senior officials of a construction company are trapped in the Tapovan tunnel while 172 NTPC personnel and 12 villagers are missing.
“The work of removing slush from the 2.5-km-long tunnel at Tapovan is still under way. JCB has been deployed. Three NDRF teams had joined the rescue operations earlier along with canine search squads. More personnel are being air lifted using MI-17 helicopters,” said NDRF Director-General S.N. Pradhan.
However, the India Meteorological Department has said that no rains have been forecast. Officials of the Central Water Commission meanwhile, said the flooding from the glacial burst has been contained.
Venudhar Nayak, Commanding Officer of the ITBP who led the rescue operation at the tunnel of the NTPC’s Tapovan hydel project, where 12 workers were rescued after a seven-hour operation on Sunday, said the project was completely washed away, and the few houses that remain undamaged on the site were covered in slush upto 20 feet deep.
Mr. Nayak, whose team of 250 personnel were the first to reach the Tapovan project said it took them seven hours to unblock the tunnel where 12 people were struck.Over 30 people are feared to have been trapped in the longer tunnel from which debris and slush was being removed.
Many of the nearly 202 missing persons have been accounted for, said the Uttarakhand police, adding that relief material is being supplied to the affected villages.
Food supplies are being air dropped to nine villages beyond the Reini bridge that was swept away in floods caused by glacial burst yesterday, said an ITBP spokesperson.
According to the PTI, The United Nations asserted that it stands ready to contribute to the ongoing rescue efforts in Uttarakhand, if necessary. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Secretary-General Guterres, said, “The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of India. The United Nations stands ready to contribute to ongoing rescue and assistance efforts if necessary”.
Responding to the statement by Mr. Guterres, India’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti said: “Deeply appreciate the sentiments expressed by U.N. Secretary General” on the glacier burst in Uttarakhand.
As multi-agency relief operations continue in Chamoli and adjoining areas of Uttarakhand, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat on Monday said that a comprehensive analysis of the entire incident is being carried out by the ISRO and DRDO, to help avert future tragedies, and asserted that immediate priority was to provide food and other assistance to the affected people.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), has deployed sniffer dogs at the Tapovan tunnel for rescue operations, said the spokesperson. Indian Airforce Helicopter sorties for insertion of rescue team were underway before first light. Reconnaissance of higher reaches to detect avalanche threatshas commenced as well.
Rescue Operations had continued throughout the night using earth movers to install generators and search lights, while a field hospital is providing medical assistance at the disaster site. Around 90 metres debris at Tapovan tunnel has been cleared till now, an ITBP spokesperson, said on Monday, adding that another 100 metres remained to be cleared.
A study published in the journal “Science Advances” in June 2019,spanning over 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, has indicated that climate change has triggered the melting of Himalayan glaciers, twice as fast since the start of this century. It showed that glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than a vertical foot and half of ice each year since 2000 which is double the amount of melting that took place from 1975 to 2000.
Seismic activity and a build-up of water pressure can cause glaciers to burst, but one particular concern is climate change. High temperatures coupled with less snowfall can accelerate melting, which causes water to rise to potentially dangerous levels.
“Most mountain glaciers around the world were much larger in the past and have been melting and shrinking dramatically due to climate change and global warming,” said Sarah Das, an associate scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.
The Geological Survey of India has found 13 of 486 glacial lakes in Uttarakhand to be vulnerable using remote sensing and multispectral data. “A glacial lake can breach causing outburst flood like the one in Chamoli on Sunday due to avalanche or landslip in its periphery, cloudburst in the catchment, a major quake and other geological factors”, GSI’s Director-General Ranjit Rath said in New Delhi on Monday.
Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat said on Twitter that the State government has released ₹20 crore for relief to the affected people after reviewing the progress of rescue operations with senior officials.