22,000 affected after Sikkim lake flooding; 150 still missing

Published October 7, 2023
CRANES are partially covered in mud and debris in Rangpo, Sikkim, following a flash flood triggered by a high-altitude glacial lake burst. — AFP
CRANES are partially covered in mud and debris in Rangpo, Sikkim, following a flash flood triggered by a high-altitude glacial lake burst. — AFP

KOLKATA: At least 42 people were killed after a glacial lake burst its banks and triggered flash floods in the Indian Himalayas this week, government officials said on Friday as rescuers kept searching for almost 150 missing.

The Lhonak Lake in the mountainous north-eastern state of Sikkim overflowed on Wednesday after a cloudburst triggered torrential rains and an apparent avalanche, causing major flooding in the Teesta river.

It was one of the worst disasters in the region in more than 50 years and the latest in a series of extreme weather events that have caused widespread damage in South Asia’s Himalayas, blamed by scientists on climate change.

Authorities in Sikkim said the disaster, which came ahead of a popular festive and tourism season in the scenic state, had impacted the lives of 22,000 people.

“We got calls from people that river levels could rise at 3am and we ran for our lives,” said Javed Ahmed Ansari, 44, a resident of Teesta valley, who owns a river rafting business.

“We ran towards the hill in the jungle ... We saw houses getting swept away. I can now only see the first floor of our house which is filled with sand, everything is submerged.”

Scientists and government authorities were working on an early warning system for glacial floods at Lhonak Lake which could have given people more time to evacuate if fully operational, officials involved in the project said.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2023

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