At 10:45 am on a clear day on 7th February, a bombastic sound was heard by the people of Joshimath who then rushed out to see white steam emerging out of Dhauliganga river valley. In a few seconds, they saw an enormous amount of water with thick debris down streaming with unstoppable force, ruthlessly suppressing everything on its way. Before people could understand what had happened, the deluge had caused the destruction, and all that the spectators could do was to shoot the bone-chilling scenes from their smartphones.
The calamity occurred in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, nearby the regions of the Nanda Devi peak, which is India’s second highest mountain peak. A major chunk of Nanda Devi glacier broke and triggered an avalanche, therefore causing sudden flood in the Dhauliganga River.
The deluge travelled down, destroying NTPC Tapovan Hydel power project and Rishiganga Hydel Power project, and taking the lives of those who were either working at these sites or were at the river bank.
According to the present figures, at least 19 dead bodies have been recovered, and about 150 people are still missing, whereas 16 labors have been rescued by the relief forces. The rescue operation is still underway as news has emerged that 34 people could be trapped inside a tunnel, and the efforts to save them are in progress day and night. The Tapovan tunnel is 250 meters long, and is covered with mud and debris, of which about 150 meters have been cleared.
The deluge also washed away 5 bridges on its way thus breaking the link between 13 villages nearby. These villages are being provided with food and other necessities via air, thanks to the Indian Army.
This is the worst natural disaster faced by Uttarakhand since the Kedarnath floods of 2013 which had claimed more than 6000 lives, and wreaked havoc in the entire valley as well as many other places located before Kedarnath.
CM Trivendra Rawat has sent a team of scientists to study the reasons behind the incident. Till now, it is being called as a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF). It happens when the boundaries of lakes are breached, causing the glacier to break & fall, and thus triggering an avalanche. When such massive glacier falls into river, it causes flooding. Even though there are no lakes in this region, some scientist believe that the lakes underlying the glaciers could have been broken. Such incidents are rare, and need a study before coming to any conclusion.
What is surprising is that it was a clear day in winter with no impactful seismic activity. During the Kedarnath floods, extremely heavy rainfall was the reason behind the floods as the Mansarovar Lake had become overburdened with excessive rain water, thus leading to a breakage of its boundaries, and unleashing huge amounts of water altogether.
Reactions from all over the world have come and they are dominated by the ideas which say that this calamity is a signal of Climate Change. In fact, in 2019, a study conducted over a period of 40 years had shown that even the Himalayas, which are the world’s highest mountains, are being impacted by the global warming, and the rate of melting of glaciers has doubled since 2000.
The environmentalists have blamed it on the developmental activities going in the region, especially construction of several hydropower projects, along with climate change.
For right now, the Geological Survey of India has called it an event of Glacial Calving that is breaking of a huge chunk of ice-mass from a glacier. However, the scientific body has organised a committee to do proper research on the matter.
As soon as the news emerged, the administration got alert and several teams from Indian Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), SDRF, and state police force reached the site of incident to begin the relief work.
The ITBP forces were the first to reach the site and had saved 16 labourers who were alive and stuck inside a tunnel. Luckily, a labourer’s phone was working, using which he contacted people outside and called for help.
Together with these forces, two medical teams, and one engineering task force has also been sent for the emergency service. Also, two helicopters have been deployed at Tapovan.
Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has announced an assistance of 4 lakh Rupees to families of each of the deceased.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he is closely monitoring the situation, and “India stands with Uttarakhand at this tough time.”