As many as 150 people were feared dead due to flash floods in Uttarakhand after Nanda Devi, a Himalayan glacier, broke and crashed into a dam early on Sunday, forcing the evacuation of villages downstream.
A witness who spoke to news agency Reuters reported a wall of dust, rock and water as an avalanche roared down a river valley. "It came very fast, there was no time to alert anyone," Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives on the upper reaches of Raini village, told Reuters by phone. "I felt that even we would be swept away."
So far, five people have been confirmed as dead, but over 150 are missing as the state stares at a major disaster. The government has deployed all its resources for the search and rescue, as NDRF personnel were airlifted from Ghaziabad near Delhi, and Army and Air Force were also pressed in service. Follow all live updates here.
"The actual number has not been confirmed yet," but 100 to 150 people were feared dead, Om Prakash, chief secretary of Uttarakhand, told news agency ANI.
Locals fear that people working at the nearby hydro-power project had been swept away, as well as villagers roaming near the river looking for firewood or grazing their cattle, Rana said. "We have no idea how many people are missing."
The glacier breach has triggered an avalanche and massive flooding along the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers, forcing the emergency evacuation of thousands from surrounding areas, and damaging houses and the nearby Rishiganga power project.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is touring poll-bound Assam and West Bengal, said he was closely monitoring the situation. "India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there," he said on Twitter after speaking with the state chief minister.
Home Minister Amit Shah said disaster-response teams were being airlifted in to help with relief and rescue. "All the concerned officers are working on a war footing," Shah said on Twitter, referring to Uttarakhand by its nickname, the Hindi term for "land of the gods" - due to the numerous Hindu temples and pilgrimage centres located across the state.
The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh also put its riverside areas on high alert.
Footage shared by locals showed the water washing away parts of the dam as well as whatever else was in its path. Videos on social media showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment.
#WATCH | Water level in Dhauliganga river rises suddenly following avalanche near a power project at Raini village in Tapovan area of Chamoli district. #Uttarakhand pic.twitter.com/syiokujhns— ANI (@ANI) February 7, 2021
"The flow of the Alaknanda River beyond Nandprayag (stretch) has become normal," Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said on Twitter. "The water level of the river is now 1 meter above normal but the flow is decreasing."
Uttarakhand in the Himalayas is prone to flash floods and landslides. In June 2013, record rainfall caused devastating floods that claimed close to 6,000 lives.
That disaster was dubbed the "Himalayan tsunami" due to the torrents of water unleashed in the mountainous area, which sent mud and rocks crashing down, burying homes, sweeping away buildings, roads and bridges.
(With inputs from Reuters)