Nine Dead, 170 Missing as Glacier Dam Bursts in Northern India

Himalaya
Photo: AP

At least nine people have died and over 130 are missing when part of a Himalayan glacier broke off in the northern state of Uttarakhand on Sunday. A surge of suddenly released water gushed into a tributary of the Ganges, which then flowed downstream into two hydroelectric dams, sweeping away one and damaging the second.

Such events are similar to what happens when a man-made dam suddenly breaks: The vast amounts of water held back suddenly gushes out violently through the new opening. Glaciers often act as barriers to whole lakes of water that have built up behind them, kept in check by the ice walls.

Rescue operations are underway in Uttarakhand. Photo: AP

Villages in the surrounding area have been evacuated and a rescue operation is underway, with hundreds of military troops flying in to assist. The chief minister in Uttarakhand announced that nine bodies have been found, but over 170 people are still missing, most of whom worked at the two power plants.

Sixteen workers did manage to escape from a tunnel at one of the hydroelectric dams. When the main road washed away, the tunnel filled with mud and rocks. Rescuers uses ropes to access the entrance and managed to evacuate the trapped workers in time.

A local man, Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives near the upper reaches of the river, noted that the catastrophic flooding “came very fast, there was no time to alert anyone.”

The flood is horribly reminiscent of 2013 when heavy rains triggered landslides and floods that destroyed thousands of houses and claimed almost 6,000 lives. As the climate inexorably warms, many in the area are increasingly worried about such events around glaciers. Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming pace, and local activists have questioned the wisdom of having 550 dams and hydropower plants in the vulnerable mountains of Uttarakhand.

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About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK.

She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans and aims to dive and open-water swim in as many seas as possible.

Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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Kurt
Kurt
7 months ago

Would the Indian builders anticipate such contingencies? One would think so. If not, no-one should be allowed to live int the direct path of the flow. In the Rowaling Valley of Nepal there is a warning system similar to the tsunami sirens. When the Tso Rolpa Lake dam bursts, the villages downstream are warned by the sirens to evacuate to higher ground. These accidents happened before in the US as well (before the global warming became the hot issue). There is a memorial to the victims of a similar disaster in the canyon near Helena, Montana from 1964s (the worst… Read more »

Jay
Jay
7 months ago
Reply to  Kurt

Thanks for the info. Did not know Nepal, where I am from, had such an alert system although had heard about the risk at Tso Rolpa. Good to know. Prayers for the dead and the ones missing in India.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
7 months ago

Prayers for the dead, the displaced, and the grieving.

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Uttam
Uttam
7 months ago

Blame the Modi government for allowing companies to build hydro projects along the pathway of potential floods in such earthquake-prone zones made even more vulnerable by climate change – and that too against the repeated advice of experts, protests of environmentalists, and the resistance of locals – and with scant regard for the environment and people’s lives and property! Such stupidity is to be expected when the government has completely sold out to corporate interests that only care about profits.

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Eddy De Wilde
Eddy De Wilde
7 months ago
Reply to  Uttam

How would you like to generate electricity for India?

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