Situated on the lap of the snow-capped Himalayan mountains, the Indian state of Uttarakhand is famous for its stunning natural beauty. It is home to several pilgrimage centers, diverse populations, vibrant ethnic culture, and celebrations. The mountain rivers, which originate from the massive glaciers, run through the deep valleys of Uttarakhand. Dhauliganga is one such river. But it didn’t take much to turn this scenic flow of water into a vicious disaster on February 7, 2021, feared to take hundreds of lives in Uttarakhand.
The Flash Flood
It was a nightmare for the Raini village survivors, swept away by the flash flood sparked by the glacier burst on February 7. The avalanche came straight from the top of the mountain, possibly a part of one of the Himalayan glaciers situated on top. It didn’t take much time for the people who used to live near the lower river banks. The ferocious water flows crushed everything that came in its way to surge ahead further down to the Alakananda River.
Multiple footages show that the fast-moving drift of water and rocks flows through the mountain valley’s narrow gorge. It smashed an under-construction dam and wiped out trees, buildings, and even people presented nearby. The hurling water flows made 13 villages completely cut off from all supplies. But the National Disaster Response Force personnel reacted quickly to resume the initial connectivity across these villages.
Not only did it wipe out the buildings, trees, and people, but the outburst of glaciers caused more widespread damage than that. There was a state-owned hydropower project site in Chamoli district and a massive dam situated on the river bed. The dam was hit by the surging avalanche of water and debris coming from the top. Rescue teams believe that a lot of survivors might still be under the destroyed construction site debris.
While 171 people are still missing overall, many of them might still be inside a tunnel. Most of them are construction workers who failed to escape the catastrophe instantly. The area around the two hydropower projects was the epicenter of the destruction.
According to Uttarakhand’s chief minister, 35 men worked at the plant right at the moment of the disaster. However, the rescue team could rescue only four to five victims when writing this article. The rising water level remains a warning sign as further down in the valley, Mandakini and Alaknanda River’s water will also swell critically. Places like Rudraprayag, Haridwar are closely monitored by the authorities, and people were already evacuated safely from the river banks.
Is Climate Change The Root Cause Of The Disaster?
Due to the increasing climate change in our world, glaciers are retreating fast. When ice melts off gigantic glaciers, the front portion breaks away suddenly and releases the water trapped behind it. It’s a fact that Himalayan glaciers are melting much quicker than we can imagine. Besides, the unplanned urbanization and illegal construction that goes along the river valley play a part in this kind of tragedy.
The experts are yet to discover the actual reasons behind this catastrophe. However, the primary findings suggest that it could be a result of the glacier melting. With the unplanned constructions around the hills and mountains, the chances of facing severe disasters are high. Even after the event, it becomes incessantly hard for the rescuers to help the people trapped beneath the debris.
First Of The Many Glacier Bursts?
This only gives birth to additional challenges to the disaster management team members. According to Dr. Ankal Prakash, an environmentalist, this could be the eventual outcome of a glacier burst. They are directly linking it with climate change. He also warned that unless people take climate change more seriously, the number of natural disasters will only increase in the future.
The area where the avalanche hit hard is very remote, and it takes days to reach some of the villages scattered around the valleys. So, you can imagine the outcome of the natural disaster and the destruction it caused around. However, the rescue and relief operation is underway already. It will take months to put things in place again in the Indian state. We hope that things fall into place soon and people would be able to move on with their lives, leaving this tragedy behind them.