A day after a Himalayan glacier broke, causing a deadly flash flood that crashed into two hydroelectric plants and damaged villages in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, experts were on Monday still looking to find a possible explanation to the untimely natural phenomenon. Authorities deliberated mechanisms to prevent such disasters in the future.
Ranjit Rath, the director general of Geological Survey of India, said that while prima facie assessment suggested that the flooding was caused due to glacial calving at highest altitude in Rishiganga, Dhauliganga and their upper reaches, it was still “too early” to predict the exact cause of the incident, ANI reported. He said a committee will be formed to look into the matter.
The Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which is also looking into the incident, also indicated towards glacial formations, reported the Hindustan Times.
“We do not suspect an avalanche,” said Jimmy Kansal, joint director at SASE. “There may be glacial lake formations, but we cannot say with certainty now. We are investigating the entire region.”
Explaining the phenomenon of glacial lakes, Professor Anil Kulkarni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, said that they are formed when glaciers retreat , leaving an area vacant.
“Several lakes have formed in the Rishi Ganga valley,” Kulkarni said, according to the Hindustan Times. “In winter, the top layer of these lakes is frozen. During an ice avalanche or a landslide this top layer is breached and water can flow downstream, toppling the earthen dam. This is a common problem seen in glaciated terrain.”
Kulkarni said that it was a “classic case of climate change” and that such incidents took place often in Nepal, but not in Uttarakhand.
Meanwhile, the construction of the Char Dham Pariyojana highway project and a couple of dams on Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers have also come under the scanner for causing damage to the ecological balance.
The natural disaster, which took place within eight years of a similar incident in Kedarnath, has also prompted the government to establish a multi-hazard early warning system for disaster-risk management, according to The Tribune. Currently, the Ministry of Earth Sciences can make predictions 24 hours before such events, which may not be adequate for sudden floods like the one that Uttarakhand suffered on Sunday.
As many as 19 bodies have been recovered so far, while more than 150 people are still missing, the state police said. The Rishiganga Power Project was completely swept away, while the Tapovan power plant was also damaged.