7 dead, at least 125 missing as Glacier bursts in Uttarakhand

SDRF personnel during rescue operation at the dam in Tapovan in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on Sunday. (UNI)
SDRF personnel during rescue operation at the dam in Tapovan in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on Sunday. (UNI)

Army, IAF deploy teams on rescue mission

*Relief work in full swing, says PM

DEHRADUN, Feb 7: Rescuers have pulled out seven bodies from a tunnel while at least 125 people were missing after a Glacier burst in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand triggered a massive avalanche and floods in the Alaknanda river system today.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said the numbers could be higher and announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the “massive disaster”.

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Two power projects – NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project and the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project – were extensively damaged with scores of labourers trapped in tunnels as the waters and sludge came rushing in.
Seven bodies have been recovered from one of the tunnels in Tapovan and a search for the rest of the missing people is underway by ITBP and SDRF personnel, Rawat said here on his return from a visit to the affected areas.
Rawat said at least 125 people including two policemen were missing and the numbers could be higher as authorities of the damaged hydel projects are not in a position to give a precise figure.
All efforts are focussed at the moment to pull out those feared trapped inside the other tunnels that are clogged with 35-40 feet of debris, Rawat said.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the National Disaster Response Force personnel have penetrated up to 150 metres into the 250-metre-long tunnel but they have not been able to contact any of the trapped employees or workmen, he said.
The extent of damage to the two hydel projects is being assessed by their management, he said.
One motorable road and four suspension bridges connecting 7-8 villages in the area with the district headquarters have also been washed away by the avalanche.
The disconnected villages include Gahar, Bhangyun, Raini Palli, Pang Lata, Suraithota, Tolma and Fagrasu.
Arrangements have been made to continue uninterrupted supplies of essentials to these villages, Rawat said.
Chamoli District Magistrate Swati S Bhadoriya and Superintendent of Police P Yashwant Singh Chauhan are camping at the site, the chief minister said.
There are 17 gram sabha areas affected by the avalanche, out of which 11 are inhabited while the residents of the rest had moved to lower areas during the winter, Rawat said.
All arrangements are in place to deal with any eventuality including IAF and private helicopters which are on stand-by.
Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force and the Army today swung into action as part of a multi-agency rescue operation in Chamoli region.
They said the Army deployed around 400 personnel in rescue operations besides sending two medical teams to affected areas.
One engineering task force of the Army was also deployed in Ringi village in Joshimath and a control room has been set up in the area, they said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said relief work is in full progress in Chamoli district.
Modi, while addressing a public rally at Haldia in West Bengal, said he is in constant touch with the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, and is keeping track of the situation.
“Today, we are at one end of Maa Ganga. But the State of Uttarakhand, which is the origin of Maa Ganga, is facing a disaster. I am in constant touch with the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, the Union Home Minister and officials of the NDRF,” he said.
Rescue and relief efforts are underway and every attempt is being made to help the affected people, the prime minister said.
Hailing the fighting spirit of the people of Uttarakhand, Modi said the entire nation is praying for them.
Modi has also approved an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of kin of those who lost their lives due to the avalanche caused by a glacial burst in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday.
The PMO also said Rs 50,000 would be given to those seriously injured.
“PM Narendra Modi has approved an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from PMNRF (Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund) for the next of kin of those who have lost their lives due to the tragic avalanche caused by a Glacier breach in Chamoli, Uttrakhand. Rs 50,000 would be given to those seriously injured,” the PMO tweeted.
Meanwhile, it was a tranquil winter morning in Raini village until the residents were jolted at around 10 AM on Sunday by a loud sound and the sight of huge torrents of water and sludge in the Rishi Ganga river hurtling towards them.
“Before we could make out what was happening, the raging muddy waters of Rishi Ganga had devastated the landscape,” says 50-year-old Dharam Singh, a resident of the village.
The scenes brought back to the people horrifying memories of the 2013 Kedarnath deluge that killed thousands.
Many were feared swept away in the sudden floods on Sunday including those who were working near the river.
Three residents of the village including a 75-year-old woman identified as Amrita Devi who had gone out to work in her field close to the bridge on Rishi Ganga are missing since the avalanche struck after the Nanda Devi glacier burst. (PTI)

Himalayan Glaciers melting at  alarming speed
NEW DELHI, Feb 7: As a part of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district today, leading to massive floods, a study published in 2019 had warned that Himalayan Glaciers have been melting twice as fast since the start of this century due to climate change.
The glacier collapse at Joshimath today led to a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river and caused large-scale devastation in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalayas.
The 2019 study, spanning 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, indicates that climate change is eating the Himalayas’ glaciers, the researchers said.
The study, published in the journal Science Advances in June 2019, shows that glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than a vertical foot and half of ice each year since 2000 — double the amount of melting that took place from 1975 to 2000.
“This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why,” said Joshua Maurer, a PhD candidate at Columbia University in the US.
While not specifically calculated in the study, the glaciers may have lost as much as a quarter of their enormous mass over the last four decades, said Maurer, lead author of the study.
The study synthesised data from across the region, stretching from early satellite observations to the present.
The data indicates that the melting is consistent in time and space, and that rising temperatures are to blame, the researchers said.
Temperatures vary from place to place, but from 2000 to 2016 they have averaged one degree Celsius higher than those from 1975 to 2000, they said.
Researchers analysed repeat satellite images of some 650 glaciers spanning 2,000 kilometres from west to east.
Many of the 20th-century observations came from declassified photographic images taken by the US spy satellites.
They created an automated system to turn these into three dimensional (3D) models that could show the changing elevations of glaciers over time.
The researchers then compared these images with post-2000 optical data from more sophisticated satellites, which more directly convey elevation changes.
They found that from 1975 to 2000, glaciers across the region lost an average of about 0.25 metres of ice each year in the face of slight warming.
Following a more pronounced warming trend starting in the 1990s, starting in 2000 the loss accelerated to about half a metre annually.
Researchers noted that Asian nations are burning ever-greater loads of fossil fuels and biomass, sending soot into the sky, adding much of it eventually lands on snowy glacier surfaces, where it absorbs solar energy and hastens melting.
They compiled temperature data during the study period from ground stations and then calculated the amount of melting that observed temperature increases would be expected to produce.
The team then compared those figures with what actually happened.
“It looks just like what we would expect if warming were the dominant driver of ice loss,” Maurer said.
The Himalayas are generally not melting as fast as the Alps, but the general progression is similar, the researchers said.
The study did not include the huge adjoining ranges of high-mountain Asia such as the Pamir, Hindu Kush or Tian Shan, but other studies suggest similar melting is underway there as well.
The researchers noted that some 800 million people depend in part on seasonal runoff from Himalayan glaciers for irrigation, hydropower and drinking water.
The accelerated melting appears so far to be swelling runoff during warm seasons, but scientists project that this will taper off within decades as the glaciers lose mass.
This, the researchers said, will eventually lead to water shortages.
The study shows that “even glaciers in the highest mountains of the world are responding to global air temperature increases driven by the combustion of fossil fuels,” said Joseph Shea, a glacial geographer at the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada, who was not involved in the study.
“In the long term, this will lead to changes in the timing and magnitude of streamflow in a heavily populated region,” said Shea. (PTI)