Satellites keep a check on Sikkim’s glacial lakes as heavy rainfall batters state - Hindustan Times
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Satellites keep a check on Sikkim’s glacial lakes as heavy rainfall batters state

Jun 14, 2024 10:14 AM IST

Between Wednesday and Thursday morning, Mangan district (North Sikkim) received 220mm rain resulting in multiple landslides killing at least six people at Pakshep and Ambhithang areas

The Sikkim government is taking assistance of Indian remote sensing agencies and satellite imageries to keep a watch over vulnerable glacial lakes, to avert any kind of rerun of the 2023-disaster, even as heavy rainfall continues to affect the high-altitude regions of the Himalayan state in eastern India.

Heavy rains triggered multiple landslides and cut off North Sikkim from the rest of the state. (ANI photo)
Heavy rains triggered multiple landslides and cut off North Sikkim from the rest of the state. (ANI photo)

“We are taking the help of satellite imageries to keep a watch over at least 3–4 glacial lakes in the high-altitude areas of North Sikkim. The state science and technology department is in constant touch with the National Remote Sensing Centre for this. We are getting regular updates on the glacial lakes,” VB Pathak, chief secretary of Sikkim, told HT.

Between Wednesday and Thursday morning, Mangan district (North Sikkim) received 220mm rain resulting in multiple landslides killing at least six people at Pakshep and Ambhithang areas. Power and communication lines were snapped.

“We are yet to receive any data on weather conditions in North Sikkim as communication lines have been damaged. But rain is still pouring in North Sikkim,” said a IMD official in Gangtok.

In October 2023, the state was hit by a devastating flash flood triggered by a glacial lake outburst of South Lhonak Lake located at an altitude of 5,245m in north Sikkim.

Also Read: Sikkim disaster: 1,200 MW project dam washed away

When the flood water and the debris hit the 1,200 MW Teesta Urja dam downstream, the latter exploded.

More than 100 people were killed while many were reported missing down-stream as the River Teesta flooded its banks. At least 33 bridges were also washed away.

“Personnel of our border guarding agencies such as the ITBP are also posted in the high-altitude regions. They are also keeping a watch. If they encounter any rise in water level in the rivers and channels in the upper reaches, they will immediately inform the authorities and people living along the banks of River Teesta in the lower reaches may be evacuated,” said Pathak.

Officials said that an Advanced Warning System (AWS), installed at the South Lhonak Lake less than a month before the 2023 disaster had failed to send any alert before the Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF).

“Two such systems were installed at South Lhonak Lake and Shako Cho Lake in 2023. Unfortunately, the system didn’t send any kind of early warning before the outburst on October 3. Most probably it wasn’t working when the incident took place,” said a senior official of the Sikkim’s disaster management authority.

Even though the machines had failed to generate an early alert, a robust response and evacuation model developed by the Sikkim government for such events, including GLOF, dam burst and cloud burst, helped to evacuate many people in the nick of time.

“We have developed special response and evacuation models for vulnerable towns and the people were made aware of the plan through computer simulations, mock drills and regular campaigns. Whenever an alert comes, they know what to do and where exactly to go,” said a senior official.

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