At least 125 people have been missing since a glacier in northern India’s Himalayan mountain range shattered on Sunday (7), causing an avalanche. The landslide hit a hydroelectric power station and caused flooding that forced residents of neighboring villages to leave their homes.
The avalanche spread from the Rishiganga valley to the mountains of Uttarakhand, generating a cloud of dust, stone and water, witnesses said. “It was very fast and there was no time to alert anyone,” said Sanjay Singh Ran, a resident of Raini village. “I felt we were going to be wiped out,” he adds.
According to Minister Trivendra Singh Rawa, the number of missing persons could increase. Most of the missing are workers at the Rishiganga hydroelectric power station, destroyed by the glacier rupture. So far, seven bodies have been saved.
Secretary of State Om Prakash fears that between 100 and 150 people have died as a result of the disaster 500 km from the capital New Delhi.
The mountains of Uttarakhand are prone to landslides. This Sunday’s avalanche reiterates the warning, already given by environmentalists and authorities, that it is necessary to review hydroelectric power plant projects in the ecologically sensitive area.
Witnesses videotaped the moment the flood destroyed parts of the Rishiganga Dam and everything in its path, such as machinery and construction materials at the site. At least 180 sheep were washed away by the flood.
Twelve people were rescued who were trapped in a tunnel after the avalanche passed, the interior minister said after meeting with the national crisis committee. Rescuers are now trying to remove another group also trapped in a tunnel.
It is not yet clear what caused the glacier to burst and the avalanche that followed. But this is not the first time that the region has faced a similar disaster.
In 2013, the monsoon season (seasonal winds that carry moist ocean air to the mainland, causing heavy rains) caused flooding in Uttarakhand that killed 6,000 people. The disaster was dubbed the “Himalayan Tsunami”.
As a result of this episode, environmental activists and former water minister Uma Bharti, now leader of President Modi’s party, criticized the construction of power plants in the region.
“When I was a minister, I asked that factories could not be built on the Ganges and its tributaries,” Bharti said on social media.
Environmental experts say Sunday’s avalanche requires all plans to build factories in the region to be reviewed.
“The government cannot continue to ignore expert warnings and must stop building hydroelectric power stations and highways in a fragile ecosystem,” said Ranjan Panda, volunteer with the ombat’s NGO Climate Change Network.