Saturday, Aug 13, 2022

Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand On High Alert For Possible Cloudbursts

A dozen deaths have been reported in 72 hours. Next 48 hours are predicted to bring more rains and landslides in the hill states, say weather experts.

Representative Image. Photograph of flash floods caused in 2021 by a cloud burst in Himachal Pradesh's Dharamshala. Photo by Maritunjay Puri

The northern hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are likely to encounter more flash floods and cloudbursts in the next two days, predicts the meteorological department, which has issued a yellow warning in the hills in the wake of a dozen monsoon-related deaths in the past 72 hours.

Till last week, the states were packed with tourists and holidaymakers apart from pilgrims on Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand. But now, they are in the grip of disruptions, fatalities and destruction. The weather forecast for the next two days in Himachal is particularly alarming.

Admits Surinder Pal, Director, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) Shimla, "The monsoons are fully active in Himachal. Today onwards, there is a forecast of heavy to very heavy rains in mid-Himachal districts viz Kullu, Sirmaur, Shimla, Kangra, Mandi and Chamba, which are also prone to cloudburst and landslides. An advisory has already been issued to the government and travellers."

As the monsoon surges, there could be extreme events at different intervals in July and August, he says, suggesting a general alert for the people living in different climatic zones of vulnerable mountain regions.

This morning, a cloudburst at Ghumarwin Bilaspur –which has no history of cloudbursts– caused extensive loss to private property and animals. Before that, Kullu –a highly vulnerable district– was wrecked by a cloudburst following incessant rains, triggering flash floods and loss of seven lives. At least 25 employees of Malana Power project had to be rescued from a building that was damaged by flash floods. At Manikaran in the district, at least four people are feared to have been washed away, and the bridge across Parvati River damaged in flash floods triggered by a cloudburst.

Three persons are also feared drowned in separate parts of Kullu district amid heavy rains. Efforts to rescue affected persons failed due to a landslide on the Kasol-Jaimala road. The teams could not reach the spot.

Many tourist camping sites and cafes at Kasol village –the most happening area in Kullu– also got washed away by flash floods, triggered by overnight heavy rains.

Due to the flash floods in Beas and Parvati rivers, the floodgates of Larji power project and Pandoh dams were opened while people living in the downstream areas were put on high alert.

Tourists have been strictly advised not to go close to rivers or venture to areas prone to cloudburst and landslides. Rather, they have been asked to follow advisories being issued by the district administrations in Lahaul-Spiti, Kullu, Mandi and Kinnaur.

In Shimla, a 14-year-old girl of a migrant family from Haryana died in a landslide that hit a temporary shelter at Dhalli early morning, following heavy rains.

Sudesh Mokhta, special secretary at the state disaster management department, says, “A general alert has been issued to all DCs and SPs to remain in preparedness for emergency situations, relief and rehabilitation, on account of rains, flash floods and landslide."

Early warning systems developed by Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi have been activated in three districts viz Kangra, Mandi and Kinnaur, but the state government expects to remain on its toes to meet eventualities.

The state had witnessed a massive landslide in Kinnaur in 2021 that killed 40 persons, while nine tourists lost their lives in another landslide and rockfall at Batseri near Sangla – a high altitude valley. 

As per Surinder Pal, “Most of the cloudbursts happening in mountain areas like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are reported either in the wee hours or around midnight. People get caught totally unawares and even in sleep. These casualties are always high due to such calamities.”

The cloudburst and flash floods in Kullu have caused panic among tourists and adventurers. “We have received several cancellations during the past 48 hours due to media reports relating to the disasters linked to monsoon rains in the high mountain valleys," confirms Mohit Sharma, who owns the travel agency Great Himalayan Travelers. 

Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, during a review meeting with chief secretary Ram Subhag Singh, DGP Sanjay Kundu and DCs, asked to ensure that rescue, relief and rehabilitation mechanism be kept in complete readiness and national highways and roads are also kept open deploying machinery immediately after landslides.