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34 killed, towns inundated in Uttarakhand flash flood

 Published on Oct 19, 2021 11:17 PM IST

An unusual western disturbance swept across the northern plans and slammed into the Himalayan ranges, triggering extremely heavy rain spells often regarded as cloudbursts.


At least 34 people have died and more are missing after a flash flood swept through Ramgarh in Nainital district, where the popular lake town was also inundated and cut-off from the rest of the state, where a number of landslides too took place.


An unusual western disturbance – a rain system that originates in the Mediterranean region – swept across the northern plans and slammed into the Himalayan ranges, triggering extremely heavy rain spells often regarded as cloudbursts.


“So far 34 deaths and five missing in Uttarakhand rains. ₹4 lakh compensation will be given to families of the deceased, and those who lost their houses will be given ₹1.09 lakh. All possible help is being extended to those who lost their livestock,” Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said after surveying some of the worst-hit regions.


The deaths have occurred since Monday when the cloudburst took place and incessant rain continued throughout the day. Twelve bodies were recovered on Tuesday while rescue efforts continued at the location where several people were suspected to have been buried under muck, district magistrate Dheeraj Singh Garbiyal said.


The cloudburst was reported around 5 am. It led to flash floods in the Ramgarh and Okhladanda blocks.


“The cloud burst in Ramgarh block, about 35km from Nainital town, caused a flash flood. It resulted in heavy damage in Ramgarh as well as Okhladanda blocks,” said Garbiyal. The roads leading to the affected areas have been badly damaged.


The authorities have sought help from the Indian Army and Indian Air Force. “They are now assisting the state agencies in the rescue and relief work,” the district’s top official said.


Five labourers died while one was rescued in Mukteshwar after a wall of a college collapsed on a shanty on Tuesday morning after heavy rains in the area, according to Preeti Priyadarshini, superintendent of police in Nainital.


“The local police and SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) rushed to the spot for rescue. Five bodies were retrieved while one was rescued and sent to a nearby hospital for treatment,” said Priyadarshini. “A total of 17 people died and 915 people were rescued from various places of the district in the last 24 hours.”


Some 150 tourists, mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, were marooned in a resort in Ramnagar after water from the overflowing Kosi river flooded it. Police have sent a bus along with some personnel to rescue them.


A bridge over the Gola river near Haldwani town was earlier washed away due to heavy rain on Tuesday morning, bringing traffic to a standstill on the Haldwani-Sitarganj highway. Kathgodam-bound trains were cancelled after the shunting line of the railway station was washed away.


“Due to the damage, all the trains towards Kathgodam have been cancelled. The railway traffic will resume after the repair works,” said Chayan Roy, station superintendent.


Water from Nainital Lake overflowed onto the Mall Road and entered the Naina Devi temple.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured chief minister Dhami of all the possible help.


Scientists and activists have repeatedly flagged ecological risks in the hill state, where settlements and infrastructure projects such as dams have crept close to naturally treacherous terrain features.


Impact attributed to climate change – such as heavier spells of rainfall – add to these, putting tens of thousands of people living in villages and towns at risk.


“A western disturbance interacted with the easterlies to cause conditions for extremely heavy rain over Uttarakhand. There was a low-pressure area over Bihar which was bringing in a lot of moisture and the western disturbance helped cloud development and rain. I do not have data to show if this has happened before but definitely in the post-monsoon period, such intense rainfall events occur in Maharashtra also,” said DS Pai, Scientist and head of climate research and services.


“To say if it was a cloudburst we have to check hourly rainfall data and see if there was 10 cm rain in an hour. We know that due to widespread rain in September, most rivers were full and soil was also saturated so more rain may have triggered flooding,” Pai explained and added: “Climate change has increased moisture holding capacity of the atmosphere all around the world. So of course, climate change has a role to play but also local synoptic features need to be considered”.


Nainital’s Mukteshwar area reported 340.8 mm rainfall in last 24 hours, the highest since the weather station was set up in 1897. Before today, the highest rainfall was reported on September 18, 1914, at 254.5 mm rainfall.


“Apart from Mukteshwar, rainfall has also broke the record in Pantnagar Udham Singh Nagar district, which had reported rainfall of 228 mm on July 10, 1990, has now in the last 24 hours received 403.9 mm rainfall, the highest since 1990,” said Meteorological Centre, Dehradun, director Bikram Singh.


IMD data showed that the state reported 178.4 mm rain, 485 % more than the average. In the last 24 hours starting from Tuesday morning, some districts like Chamoli and US Nagar in the state have received around 10,000% more rain than the average.


Earlier, chief minister Dhami chaired a meeting at the state disaster management control room to assess the damage caused to life and property.


“During the meeting, he called up the district magistrates of Rudraprayag and Chamoli to especially focus on the Char Dham yatra route to ensure pilgrims do not face any problem. He is getting regular updates from all the district magistrates on the rain situation in their respective districts,” said an official, who did not want to be named. “He directed the authorities to provide compensation to the victims as soon as possible.”


Several roads were blocked as heavy rains threw life out of gear in Uttarakhand on Monday. Three people died in Lansdowne in Pauri Garhwal district after a shanty collapsed under heavy muck brought in by the rains in the morning. A 53-year-old woman died in a similar incident in Champawat district.


In the mountainous Pithoragarh district, at least 10 roads, including three major arteries — Tanakpur to Pithoragarh, Jauljibi to Munsiyari and Tawaghat to Darma—were blocked due to landslides on Monday.