Tragedy struck after sudden heavy rainfall on Wednesday triggered flash floods and provoked the outburst of the Lhonak glacier lake.
At least 14 people died as a result of the massive floods in the northeastern state of Sikkim, India, and another 120 have gone missing. Among the missing persons are 23 army personnel.
The death toll is expected to further rise, as officials said to have recovered at least 40 bodies.
The flooding occurred along the Teesta River in the Lachen Valley, the army said in a statement, adding the water levels also rose due to water being released from a nearby dam.
Several towns including Pakyong and Mangan have been affected by the floods, and at least six bridges were washed away by the powerful stream.
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National Highway 10, a key route in northeastern India connecting the Indo/Bangladesh border via Siliguri to Gangtok, was also damaged to the point the state remained cut out from the rest of India.
Prabhakar Rai, director of Sikkim’s disaster management department, said: “North Sikkim has been totally cut off from the rest of the state while Sikkim has been cut off from the rest of India as the flood had badly hit NH10.”
In response to the deadly floods, schools were shut down for four days and residents in areas affected were evacuated.
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The flooding was caused by cloudbursts – sudden and heavy rainfall which caused the water level to rise very fast.
Cloudbursts are observed when more than 10 centimetres of rainfall occurs within six square miles within an hour.
Ashim Sattar, a scientist with IISc Bengaluru, told the Hindustan Times: “The rains had probably triggered an avalanche which led to a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood [a flood caused by the failure of a dam containing a glacial lake].
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“As huge volumes of water and debris comprising boulders came gushing down they hit the hydro dam in Chunthang.
“The dam was washed away and the entire load gushing down with tremendous force.”
The Himalayan region where Sikkim is located has already falled victim this summer of a series of deadly disasters linked to extreme weather, after it experienced heavy monsoon rains.
In August, nearly 50 people died in flash floods and landslides in the Himachal Pradesh state.
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