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31 dead in India’s Himalayan northeast after lake bursts through major dam

Ice-cold floodwaters swept through mountain towns in India’s Himalayan northeast, killing at least 31 people, washing away houses and bridges, and forcing thousands of people to leave their homes, officials said Friday.

The flood began shortly after midnight Wednesday, when the waters of a glacial lake overflowed, cracking open Sikkim State’s biggest hydroelectric dam and then cascading through towns in the valley below.

It was the latest deadly flood to hit northeast India in a year of unusually heavy monsoon rains. Nearly 50 people died in flash floods and landslides in August in nearby Himachal Pradesh state, record rains in July killed more than 100 people over two weeks in northern India.

 

Despite risks to dams due to increasing frequency of extreme weather, the Indian federal government aims to increase India’s hydroelectric dam output by half, to 70,000 megawatts, by 2030.

Disasters caused by landslides and floods are common in India’s Himalayan region during the June-September monsoon season. Scientists say they are becoming more frequent as global warming contributes to the melting of glaciers there.

“This is, incredibly sadly, another classic case of a cascading hazard chain that amplifies as you go downstream,” said Jakob Steiner, a climate scientist with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, commenting on Wednesday’s flash flooding.

Earlier this year, Steiner’s organization published a report saying that Himalayan glaciers could lose 80% of their volume if global warming isn’t controlled.

Last month, dam breaches caused by Storm Daniel caused devastating damage to the city of Derna in Libya.

In February 2021, flash floods killed nearly 200 people and washed away houses in Uttarakhand state in northern India.

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