© 2022 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Scores Are Feared Dead In India After Himalayan Glacier Breaks Away

After a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in northern India on Sunday, people inspect a site near a damaged hydropower project at Reni village in Chamoli district in the country's Uttarakhand state.
After a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in northern India on Sunday, people inspect a site near a damaged hydropower project at Reni village in Chamoli district in the country's Uttarakhand state.

A massive search-and-rescue operation was underway Sunday in northern India for at least 140 people missing after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off, triggering an avalanche of rock, mud, water and debris that swept away a hydroelectric dam.

Video recorded by witnesses from across a valley showed a torrent of water and debris breaking through a dam that's part of the Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project, more than 300 miles north of New Delhi.

"It came very fast. There was no time to alert anyone," local resident Sanjay Singh Rana told Reuters. "I felt that even we would be swept away."

Many of those missing are believed to be workers at the dam. Police say that nine bodies have been recovered so far and that at least 140 people are missing. The chief minister of India's Uttarakhand state, Trivendra Singh Rawat, told reporters that the figure could rise.

The disaster began around 10:45 a.m. local time when part of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in an ecologically fragile area of Uttarakhand, an Indian state bordering Nepal and China, high in the Himalayas. Environmentalists have long cautioned against building dams and power plants there, because it's so prone to landslides and flooding.

In 2013, record monsoon rainfall triggered floods that killed about 6,000 people in what was dubbed the "Himalayan tsunami" because it swept away homes, roads and bridges in Uttarakhand.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the glacier to break away early Sunday. While climate change has contributed to the shrinkage of Himalayan glaciers, February is still winter in Uttarakhand and not typically the time of year when its glaciers melt.

There was at least one joyful rescue Sunday: Indian journalists shared footage on social media of disaster relief workers pulling a man out from a tunnel where he'd been buried alive. The victim throws his arms up in the air in celebration and then falls forward into the mud, as people clap and cheer around him.

By nightfall, villages had been evacuated downstream from the broken Rishiganga dam, along tributaries of the mighty Ganges River. The neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous, also put riverside areas on high alert.

"India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone's safety there," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

The Nanda Devi glacier lies near a peak of the same name, which at 25,643 feet is India's second-highest mountain. Its name means "blessed goddess," and the mountain itself is worshipped in local Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The surrounding Nanda Devi National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content