June 19, 2013 – Fatal Floods Hit North India: Flash floods in northern India, which have killed at least 70 people over the past four days, have stranded 30,000 tourists and pilgrims in the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, government officials said Tuesday. Pictured above, a vehicle stuck in silt deposited by flood waters in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on Tuesday.
Rudraprayag, in Uttarakhand, is the gateway to all the major Hindu pilgrimage destinations, like Kedarnath, Badrinath, Joshimath, and June is the peak month for pilgrimages. The floods have made much of Uttarakhand inaccessible by car so the authorities have been using helicopters to evacuate people.
“We haven’t had this kind of a flash flood in the last 100 years,” said Bhaskaranand, who goes by one name, the state’s secretary for disaster management, adding that all of the Ganges River’s tributaries were overflowing their banks.
At least 44 people have died in Uttarakhand, and many more are still missing, he said. “At least 30,000 tourists are still stranded at different places. We are dropping essential supplies including tinned food, milk, water and medicines by air,” said Mr. Bhaskaranand.
He said that 15 air force helicopters were sent to evacuate 500 people on Tuesday and that another 15 helicopters would be used on Wednesday. Joining the rescue efforts are 500 National Disaster Rescue Force personnel, 1,000 officers from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and 50 Indian Air Force personnel.
“The road network beyond Rudraprayag is completely damaged,” I.S. Negi, inspector general of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, said by phone. “The damage is so extensive that it will take months to repair it.”
In Himachal Pradesh, at least 11 people have died in the districts of Kinnaur and Sirmaur. The state government has sent two helicopters to rescue stranded pilgrims, including some foreigners.
In Kinnaur, the amount of rain was 1,200 percent more than normal, and in Sirmaur, it was 700 percent, said Amandeep Garg, special secretary for disaster management in Himachal Pradesh. “All the tributaries of Sutlej River are overflowing due to flash floods,” he said.
In the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, at least 15 people died as the heavy rains caused the Yamuna River to swell. “The river bank has broken at two places, and we are trying to repair that,” said A.K. Singh, district magistrate of Saharanpur.
New Delhi is also facing the threat of floods as the Yamuna River, which runs through the capital, is rising to dangerous levels. Residents near the river bank have been advised by the government to move to higher ground.
Relief agencies were putting up tents for displaced residents, as they expected water levels to keep rising over the next two days.
From the Hathini Kund barrage in Haryana state, 800,000 cubic feet of water per second was flowing into the Yamuna River, which was unprecedented, said Sheila Dixit, the chief minister of Delhi. “We have made all possible preparations and are now praying to God.”
India experiences natural disasters every year during the monsoon season, and public safety experts have questioned its emergency management plans. India formed the National Disaster Management Authority in 2005 through an act of Parliament, with the prime minister as its chairman. The country also has a national disaster rescue force.
“A certain level of disaster preparedness is always there,” said Mr. Bhaskaranand of Uttarakhand. “But we cannot prepare for nature’s fury.” (Credits – HARI KUMAR for the New York Times Global Edition).
The Master of Disaster