In Photos: The Devastation After a Himalayan Glacier Burst a Dam in India

The glacial burst triggered flash floods and an avalanche that have left at least 15 people dead, while 170 are missing.
Himalaya Glacial burst uttarakhand india february 2021
This general view shows state-run NTPC hydropower project site damaged after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads in Uttarakhand on February 7, 2021.
Photo: Ajay BHATT / AFP

On Feb. 7, Sunday, a portion of the Himalayan Nanda Devi glacier broke off in north India, triggering an avalanche and a subsequent flood that has left at least 15 people dead, and 170 others missing. 

The floodwaters caused hydroelectric stations in the state’s Alaknanda River system to wash away as a deluge rushed through the valley in the state of Uttarakhand. The flash flood triggered  panic and left large-scale destruction.

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Two hydropower projects were severely damaged, with scores of labourers trapped in tunnels, at least 16 of whom were rescued overnight. 

Himalaya Glacial burst uttarakhand india february 2021

Members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) during a rescue operation after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads, at Reni village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Photo: Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) / AFP

Most of those missing are also believed to be workers from these projects. Emergency workers have evacuated dozens of villages along the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers to minimise potential damage, but the authorities do not foresee a flood. 

While officials are not clear about the cause of the glacial burst, a team of scientists from the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has arrived in the state capital of Dehradun to carry out surveillance and reconnaissance. 

Himalaya Glacial burst uttarakhand india february 2021

Onlookers and members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) during a rescue operation. Photo: Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) / AFP

Climate activists and environment groups have repeatedly questioned the construction of dams in the ecologically sensitive zone, leaving it prone to calamities.

A 2019 study, published in the journal Science Advances, conducted using 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal and Bhutan had warned that the Himalayan glaciers were melting at twice the usual rate due to climate change. In 2017, scientists from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology filed a report on floods in the Himalayas as part of an effort to urge the government to reconsider hydropower projects built over dams.

In June 2013, floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains in the same area are known to have claimed at least 5,700 lives.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat announced that the families of those killed in the destruction will receive a financial compensation of Rs 400,000 ($5,487). Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the government will give Rs 200,000 ($2,743) to the affected families.