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Glacier break triggers massive flood in Uttarakhand, over 150 feared dead

Chamoli, Uttarakhand: Around 150 people are feared dead after a glacier broke off at Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district and triggered an avalanche and massive flooding of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers on Sunday morning, forcing the evacuation of thousands and damaging the nearby Rishiganga and NTPC power plants. Ten bodies have been recovered so far. Disaster response teams have been deployed and the Army has committed four columns; three helicopters are conducting aerial surveys. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Assam to campaign for Assembly polls, tweeted: “India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety.”

Ten deaths have been confirmed. Earlier Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Om Prakash said around 100 to 150 were feared dead. Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said teams from the police, the Army and the ITBP, as well as from the national and state disaster response forces, had been deployed and “are doing their best to save the lives of the workers at sites affected by the disaster”.

Around 160 people are employed at the NTPC and Rishiganga power plants. Twenty people trapped in an under-construction tunnel at the Tapovan dam are safe and an ITBP team is working to rescue them, sources said. Authorities also fear for the safety of labourers at road and rail projects in affected areas.

Prime Minister Modi tweeted to say he had spoken to Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. He also tweeted: “Am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation… India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there. Have been continuously speaking to senior authorities and getting updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work and relief operations.”

Medical teams have also been rushed to affected sites. A 30-bed hospital has been kept ready at Joshimath and hospitals in Srinagar, Rishikesh, Jollygrant and Dehradun are on standby.

Five NDRF teams – one from Dehradun and four from Delhi – have been mobilised. Four more are being readied and will be airlifted from Ghaziabad’s Hindon Air Force base, which is near Delhi, NDRF Director-General SN Pradhan said. Two teams are travelling by road and are expected to reach by around 8 pm.

Teams are also being airlifted from Dehradun to Joshimath, which is around 290 km away and was the location of the glacier break. These are expected to reach tomorrow. In addition, two ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) teams, consisting of 200 personnel, have been mobilised, and a similar number of SDRF (State Disaster Response Force) personnel have been deployed.

The Army has committed four columns, each with 100 soldiers. In addition, one Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and two Cheetah helicopters are also operating. The Army is using C-130 and An32 transport aircraft to airlift NDRF personnel. Two medical teams and an engineering task force have also been deployed. Seven Navy diving teams are on standby.

No adverse weather events are expected over Chamoli, Tapovan and Joshimath areas, the Met Department said, in news that will come as a relief for people in the flood-affected areas and those involved in search-and-rescue efforts. However, light rainfall or snowfall is likely in the northern parts of Chamoli early next week, the weather advisory added.

Massive flash floods and landslides hit Uttarakhand’s Kedarnath in June 2013 after a multi-day cloudburst. Thousands of people were killed in one of the country’s worst natural disasters since the 2004 tsunami. The floods also damaged parts of the famous Kedarnath temple, which is located at 3581 metres.

“Do not pay attention to any kind of rumors. The government is taking all necessary steps. If you are stuck in the affected area, if you need any kind of help, please contact Disaster Operations Center number 1070 or 9557444486. Please do not spread rumors from old videos about the incident,” Chief Minister Rawat urged.

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