Heavy rain causes a glacial lake to overflow, causing catastrophic flooding in the remote Himalayan region.
At least 10 people have died in the Indian state of Sikkim and another 82, including 23 army personnel, are missing after heavy rains caused the glacial lake Lhonak to overflow, causing catastrophic flooding in the region.
The northeastern state received 40.9 mm (1.6 inches) of rain between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), about five times its normal rate of 8.6 mm (0 .3 inches) for this time of year.
“So far 10 bodies have been recovered in different places. At least 82 more people are missing and 22 people are injured, some of them seriously,” Sikkim Chief Secretary VB Pathak told Reuters news agency.
A downpour – or an extreme amount of rain over a short period of time – over Lake Lhonak caused torrential flooding in the valley about 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Gangtok, near the border with China.
“Heavy rains have led to this catastrophic situation in Sikkim, where the rain has caused a glacial lake to flood, damaged a dam, caused loss of life and caused further damage to roads and infrastructure,” said Miriam Jackson, specialist senior in cryosphere from Sikkim University. International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, based in Nepal.
The lake, which sits at the base of a glacier in the peaks surrounding the world’s third-highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, had shrunk by almost two-thirds of its size overnight, an area roughly equivalent to 150 football fields. (105 hectares), according to published satellite photographs. by the Indian Space Research Organization.
Heavy rains hampered the search for missing Indian troops, and the capital city of Gangtok was cut off by road, defense officials said.
“Twenty-three staff members have been reported missing and some vehicles are submerged under sleet. Search operations are underway,” a Defense Ministry spokesperson said.
India’s meteorological department has warned of landslides and flight disruptions as heavy rain is forecast to continue over the next two days in some parts of Sikkim.
Jackson warned that these extreme events have become more frequent “as the climate continues to warm and takes us into uncharted territory.”
The main highway linking Sikkim to the state of West Bengal collapsed and Gangtok was completely isolated, according to army spokesman Anjan Basumatary.
About 15,000 people living in the surrounding area are likely to be affected and at least eight major bridges have been washed away along the banks of the Teesta river, officials said.
Media showed images of the river lashing the hills and entering residential areas.
Panic situation in Singtam, East Sikkim this morning pic.twitter.com/TANBVf54Lo
– Nitesh R Pradhan (@NiteshRPradhan) October 4, 2023
Some military bases and installations along the valley were affected and rising water submerged vehicles following the release of water from a dam, said a Defense Ministry spokesman based in the neighboring city of Guwahati.
Intermittent rain and thunderstorms were hampering rescue operations in the area, an army official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office said in a statement that the government will support state authorities to address the challenges posed by the floods.
Violent flooding of glacial lakes dammed by loose rock has become more frequent as global temperatures rise and ice melts, and scientists warned Wednesday that the deadly flood was a sign of new extreme weather events brewing. they loom
Disasters caused by landslides and floods are common in the Himalayan region of India during the monsoon season from June to September.
The region experienced heavy monsoon rains this season and experts say climate change is increasing their frequency and severity.
Nearly 50 people died in flash floods and landslides in August in Himachal Pradesh, also a Himalayan state.
Record rains in July killed more than 100 people in two weeks in northern India as roads flooded and houses collapsed.
In February 2021, flash floods killed nearly 200 people and swept away homes in Uttarakhand.