Flood toll hits 52 amid rescue ops in Uttarakhand

CM Pushkar Singh Dhami, who on Tuesday described the human loss as huge and said infrastructure as well as crops were destroyed, assured state support
The number of people who have died in Uttarakhand due to rain-related incidents this week has risen to 52, and at least five people are still missing, said officials on Wednesday. (PTI)
The number of people who have died in Uttarakhand due to rain-related incidents this week has risen to 52, and at least five people are still missing, said officials on Wednesday. (PTI)
Updated on Oct 21, 2021 12:09 AM IST
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ByHT Correspondent, Dehradun/haldwani

The number of people who have died in Uttarakhand due to rain-related incidents this week has risen to 52, and at least five people are still missing, said officials on Wednesday as rescuers dug through debris of landslides and building collapses, and attempted to reach people marooned by flooded rivers.

Record-breaking amounts of unseasonal rain led to flash flood in the Ramgarh area, and several other regions were hit by landslides. In multiple places, bridges were washed away and some roads remained blocked, making rescue work difficult.

Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who on Tuesday described the human loss as huge and said infrastructure as well as crops were destroyed, assured state support. “We want to assure the people that our government is with the affected people in this hour of need. We are providing every possible help including food and medicines to the needy ones and will continue to do so,” he said after visiting some of the badly hit areas on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the confirmed toll was at 34. According to Jyoti Negi, spokesperson of the state disaster management department, the 52 deaths confirmed till Wednesday include 28 from the Nanital district, six from Almora, eight from Champawat, two from Udham Singh Nagar, and one from Bageshwar district.

The rest of the deaths have happed on October 17 (one) and October 18 (six).

Around 500 people stranded on Kainchi to Bhowali road were rescued, taking the total number of people pulled to safety since Monday to around 1,500. State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel also carried out rescue operations in waterlogged areas of Rudrapur in Udham Singh Nagar, using rafts at some places on Tuesday night.

Most of the casualties were of people who died when their homes collapsed due to the heavy rain in the early hours of Tuesday. “We were sleeping in the house early in the morning when we heard a big blast-like sound. Soon, heavy muck and boulders came crashing down and buried our house. I’m not sure how, but I somehow stood up and came out of the house. My husband and grandchildren couldn’t,” said 54-year-old Kiran Negi.

The children were pulled out 12 hours later, but her husband did not survive.

Rescue workers said their job has been complicated by incessant rains. “We have already rescued many people in the last three days. Several rescue operations are still on in the affected areas with additional deployment of personnel in sensitive areas,” said SDRF commandant Navneet Singh Bhullar, who has been on the ground in Rudrapur to monitor and assist in relief and rescue.

Electricity supply and telephone connectivity, badly hit by the rains, have been restored in the town. But villages on the outskirts remain affected, officials said.

The rescue and restoration work was likely to pick up with the improvement in the weather, Nainital district magistrate Dhiraj Garbiyal said.

Aerial photos showed raging rivers and the lake at the picturesque tourist town of Nainital overflowing onto the famous Mall Road.

“In 1995, the water had overflown to some extent. But this time, it was much more. I don’t think such a case has happened here before,” said Ajay Singh Rawat, a noted environmentalist who lives in Nainital.

Rawat said usually, local authorities release waters into Baliyanala when the water level rises. “But this time, the rains were so severe that it left the entire area inundated,” he said. By Wednesday morning, most of the water had receded from the roads.

Dhami issued instructions to officials to conduct survey of crop damage in affected areas so that farmers can be compensated for their losses. He had on Tuesday announced 4 lakh compensation to the kin of the deceased.

In the high reaches of Uttarkashi, at least 14 people — including eight trekkers from West Bengal and Delhi — went missing after heavy snow caused by the same weather system that brought the deluge in the lower reaches.

Union home minister Amit Shah was scheduled to reach Uttarakhand on Wednesday night to assess the flood situation in the state on Thursday, said Devendra Bhasin, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state vice president.

Uttarakhand saw 17.8 centimeters (7 inches) of rain in the first few weeks this month, but recorded nearly 58 centimeters (22.8 inches) within just 22 hours on Tuesday, news agency AP quoted aid Bikram Singh, the director of the Meteorological Center in Dehradun, as saying.

Scientists have attributed an increasing trend of intense rainfall in parts of India to disruptions in weather patterns caused by the climate crisis, and this, experts say, has exacerbated the harms by unplanned construction work in ecologically sensitive areas such as the Himalayas and the Western Ghats, which too have been hit by floods and landslides.

“In both these regions, we are seeing extremely destructive activities in the name of so-called development. Road projects cutting through hillsides are common to both regions. In 2019, I travelled to Puthumala in Kerala after the landslides and saw several small landslide sites leading up to the big one. These were all along a road construction project. Rock quarries are proliferating along these construction sites to provide construction material. This is leading to a gradual crumbling and weakening of the hills,” ecologist Madhav Gadgil told HT in an interview published on Wednesday.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021