Emergency workers are searching for up to 150 people after a piece of the Nanda Devi glacier snapped off into the Dhauli Ganga river, releasing the water trapped by it and triggering a massive flood in the state of Uttarakhand, India.
The glacier broke on Sunday morning (IST) after an avalanche struck near the Rishiganga Power Project dam where several labourers were working.
As many as 26 people are confirmed dead, with the remaining missing peoples feared to be employees from the two nearby hydropower plants.
Rescue efforts are underway with more than 2,000 military and police personnel partaking in search-and-rescue efforts. Rescuers are focusing on several sites, including the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers, and a 200-metre tunnel where it is thought to have 37 trapped workers inside with debris and mud concealing the entrance.
Those living further down the river were urged to evacuate as the waters continued to rise, threatening homes and lives. Footage taken by nearby residents captured the moment the floodwaters barreled down the river in the Chamoli district, destroying bridges, buildings, trees, and people in its path.
Nearby villages cut off by the disaster have been sent supplies via helicopter.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted a message of support while the area’s chief minister also announced a compensation of four lakh Indian Rupees ($7,115.01 AUD) for the relatives of those deceased.
The Uttarakhand area is prone to flash flooding and landslides. In 2013, nearly 6,000 people were killed by floods brought on by record-breaking monsoons.
Researchers are pointing towards climate change as a contributing factor in India’s latest tragedy.
According to Dave Petley, professor of landslide science at the University of Sheffield, landslides were becoming more frequent in the high mountainous areas of India.
“The rock masses in the high mountains are stuck together with ice in cracks and fractures,” he told NBC. “As this ice thaws, the incidences of these events increases.”
This seems to have been the case in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, which experienced an unusually mild winter causing a faster melt rate and creating large lakes at their snouts in an area of unstable gravel, boulders, and mud.
This latest disaster comes just two years after a 2019 comprehensive report of the Hindu Kush Himalaya found at least one-third of the huge ice fields in Asia’s towering mountain chain are ‘doomed to melt’ due to climate change, which would ultimately affect around two billion people.
According to the report, the glaciers are critical in storing water for the 250 million people who live in the region with a further 1.65 billion relying on the rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, and China.