23 Indian soldiers missing after flashfloods caused by ‘cloudburst’ in India’s northeast

Rain and thundershowers pose challenge to rescue operation

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Wednesday 04 October 2023 11:01 BST
Nearly two dozen Indian troops missing after flash flood

A search operation is underway to find 23 Indian soldiers who went missing after a sudden cloudburst caused a flash flood in the northeastern state of Sikkim.

Rain lashed the Lachen valley about 150km north of the state capital Gangtok, located along the border with China.

"Due to a sudden cloudburst over Lhonak lake in North Sikkim, a flash flood occurred in the Teesta river in Lachen valley. Some army establishments along the valley have been affected,” a defence ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.

Rising water submerged some vehicles following the release of water from Chungthang Dam, the spokesperson added.

The water level rose up to 20 feet, bringing down several buildings in the Mangan district. Two bridges were washed away by the Teesta river water that severed crucial transportation links.

A portion of the National Highway-10 connecting the states of Sikkim and West Bengal caved in at Melli due to the flash floods, the news portal East Mojo reported.

Intermittent rain and thundershowers were hampering rescue operations in the area, an army official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

Videos on social media showed a large section of the highway washed away by the raging river as people stood on one end of the road.

The Teesta river was flowing below warning level in the morning but is expected to cross its warning level in the next six hours, the Central Water Commission said.

The Border Road Organisation (BRO) has been pressed into rescuing residents of Chungthang town, which has been one of the worst-hit regions in the state. Defence authorities told news agency PTI that 80 local residents have been safely evacuated so far.

A flash flood alert was earlier issued in the north and east districts of Sikkim following heavy rains overnight.

“Deeply concerned on getting the news of 23 soldiers missing after a flash flood in Sikkim which followed a cloudburst in the region,” said Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal.

She promised assistance from her government while urging all concerned in North Bengal to maintain “maximal vigil in the current season to prevent disasters”.

Cloudbursts are a common occurrence in Himalayan regions but experts are worried by the increase in extreme weather-related events.

Intense weather events – especially more than 10cm (3.94inches) of rainfall occurring within a 10 square kilometre (3.86 square miles) region within an hour – are called cloudbursts.

They have the potential to wreak havoc – causing intense flooding and landslides that affect thousands of people in mountainous regions.

Experts say the frequency of such events has been increasing in recent years partly due to the climate crisis.

In August, over 70 people died in landslides triggered by cloudbursts in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh.

Record rains in July this year killed more than 100 people over two weeks in northern India, as roads were waterlogged and homes collapsed.

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