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

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.