Rescue operations are in full swing as the death toll continues to rise following flash floods in India’s northeastern state of Sikkim. The floods, triggered by a cloudburst over a mountain lake, have left over 100 people missing, including 22 army personnel. As of Thursday night, at least 19 people have lost their lives.
The situation escalated when water was released from a nearby dam into the Teesta river, exacerbating the floods. Search and rescue teams comprising hundreds of personnel have been dispatched to the affected areas, and regions near the river are on high alert.
The floods have impacted more than 22,000 individuals, with many stranded in Lachen and Lachung in northern Sikkim. Mobile phone coverage in the area has been disrupted. State Chief Secretary VB Pathak announced that around 3,000 people were stranded in Lachen and Lachung and would be evacuated with the assistance of Indian Army and Air Force helicopters.
The army is providing food, medical aid, and communication facilities to civilians and stranded tourists. In response to the inclement weather, all schools and colleges in the state will remain closed until October 15.
The calamity began when Lhonak lake in Sikkim breached its embankment due to heavy rainfall on Tuesday night, causing a significant rise in the water level of the Teesta river in Lachen Valley. The situation worsened when water from a nearby dam was released into the river, resulting in a sudden increase in water levels downstream, reaching up to 15-20 feet high.
Satellite images from India’s space agency, Isro, depicted substantial changes in the lake’s volume. On September 28, the lake covered an area of 167.4 hectares, but by October 4, it had shrunk to just 60.3 hectares.
The floods have caused extensive damage to infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Northern parts of neighboring West Bengal state have also been affected as the Teesta river inundated several districts, leading to two casualties and six injuries due to a mortar shell explosion found in the overflowing river in Jalpaiguri.
Sikkim, located in the Himalayas, is susceptible to floods and natural disasters. Last year, severe flooding displaced tens of thousands of people and claimed the lives of at least 24 individuals.