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Himalayan glacier burst death toll increases to 26 with 200 still missing

Long before two hydroelectric dams were struck by a deadly flood, scientists routinely cautioned that such schemes were risky in a vulnerable area, made more so by global warming.

Himalayan glacier burst death toll increases to 26 with 200 still missing
09.02.2021 19:05

In northern India, at least 171 people are missing and 26 died after part of a Himalayan glacier plummeted into a river, sending a devastating landslide of water, dust and rocks down a mountain gorge and smashing into a dam.

Rescue teams worked through the night to find survivors trapped under the debris. Most of the missing are workers from two hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, which were hit by the avalanche.

Workers have recovered at least 26 bodies. More than 2,000 members of the military, paramilitary groups and police continued a massive search-and-rescue for around 200 people still missing.

As scientists examine the cause of the glacier breaking, some have noted that it snowed heavily last week in the Nanda Devi area, possibly causing an avalanche when it started melting.

As the ice melts, glaciers become unstable and start to retreat. Large glacial lakes can form, and when parts of the glacier in front of it break away they unleash the water trapped behind it causing an outburst of floods.

“This looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming,” said Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct professor at the Indian School of Business.The disaster also raises questions about the strength of the dams.

The area where the avalanche and flooding occurred is extremely remote and mountainous and it can take days to reach some of the villages dotted throughout the valleys, according to Prakash.These places “need basic facilities such as infrastructure, water, roads, and sanitation,” Prakash said, adding that “we need development here because they are some of the poorest areas.”