Torrential rains, rivers-in-spate and landslides leave Uttarakhand in troubled waters

For more than a week, the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand has been reeling under relentless rains with the majority of its districts registering ‘large excess’ rainfall. Multiple landslides have cut off villages as roads are blocked, and several villages are in darkness.

Deepak Rawat
| Updated: June 21st, 2021

Many areas of the hilly districts in Uttarakhand have been lashed with rain, landslides and flash floods. Photo: @shubhamtorres09/twitter

Dehradun, Uttarakhand

A pall of gloom enveloped the tribal village of Raini, located in the far reaches of the Indo-Tibetan border in Chamoli district. The statue of activist Gaura Devi, who played a significant role in the Chipko movement, was taken down and shifted to a safe place by the authorities. “It feels like our mother has left us,” said an emotional villager.

Gaura Devi’s statue was moved for safekeeping as the village and indeed many areas of the hilly districts in Uttarakhand have been lashed with rain, landslides and flash floods. 

Just outside Raini village, on the Neeti-Malari route, 40 metres of the road caved in, cutting off communication for the village inhabitants as well as the Indo Tibetan Border Police who were unable to reach the Indo-Tibetan border outpost. 

There are news reports of multiple landslides along the CharDham highway project. Continuous heavy rainfall in the past few days in the Himalayan state has triggered landslips and road blocks in Chamoli, Rudraprayag, Bageshwar and Pithoragarh districts.

Villages in the area are living under the constant threat of being washed away by the rivers in spate, frequent landslips and relentless rainfall. At Raini, the authorities have shifted the families from their homes to the relative safety of the village primary school. 

Also Read: Fear in the mountains: Following the Uttarakhand disaster, women, children and the elderly in 13 cut-off villages are terrified to return home

The condition of Raini’s neighbouring village Sunkhibhala is no different. “Rishi Ganga is in spate. There are landslides happening in several places and several homes and shops have collapsed,” Lakshman Butola, the gram pradhan of the village, told Gaon Connection.

Rishi Ganga river was in news earlier this year when, on February 7, there were massive flashfloods in it due to an avalanche induced disaster in Chamoli. About 200 people were killed or are still missing.

Also Read: Uttarakhand Disaster: Over 300 km from Joshimath in Chamoli, ripples of alarm in Himachal’s Lahaul and Spiti

According to Butola, the only bridge that connected villages in and around Sunkhibhala to Joshimath was also on the verge of being washed away. “The Border Roads Organisation is trying to save the bridge, but we do not think they will be able to do it,” Butola said. The water and electricity supply to the villages are also cut, he added.

Villages in the area are living under the constant threat of being washed away by the rivers in spate and frequent landslips. Photo: @shubhamtorres09/twitter

Uttarakhand pounded by heavy rainfall

As per the data of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), of the total 13 districts in Uttarakhand, nine received large excess rainfall between June 10 and June 16 last week.

Champawat and Chamoli districts registered a rainfall departure of 434 per cent and 423 per cent, respectively. Rudraprayag and Pithoragarh had large excess rainfall of 180 per cent and 138 per cent, respectively.

Map: Large excess rainfall in districts of Uttarakhand from June 10 to June 16, 2021

Source: India Meteorological Department

Yesterday, June 20, twelve districts of the Himalayan state reported excess rainfall. Chamoli registered a rainfall departure of 1,131 per cent.

Map: Large excess rainfall in Uttarakhand on June 20, 2021

Source: India Meteorological Department

Rivers rise, roads closed

A number of Himalayan rivers in the state have swollen causing floods like situation in the state. According to Pradeep Bhandari, a resident of Joshimath, the Alaknanda river is flowing near the danger mark and because of the erosion, several roads nearby have been washed away. “The retaining wall constructed by the All Weather Road Project (to improve, upgrade and develop the highways in Uttarakhand) has also failed to prevent erosion and keep the waters at bay,” he added. Nearly a kilometre of the road nearby is in danger of being washed away.

Alaknanda river flowing above warning level in Pauri. Photo: @shubhamtorres09/twitter

Also Read: Mayhem in May as Uttarakhand has episodes of back-to-back intense rainfall

As a consequence of heavy rainfall and landslides, a huge boulder had rolled down the mountainside and blocked the Badrinath National Highway near Taiya bridge in Chamoli district for an entire day. The road was opened up on the evening of June 20.

Pinder river is also in full spate in Unibagad village, Chamoli district. “My home is damaged beyond repair and the river has washed away all our belongings,” Alam Ram, a farmer from Unibagad village, told Gaon Connection. “Most of my land is also under water,” he added. Alam Ram and his family moved to another village to his brother’s house for safety.

Almost all roads in Chamoli district are closed for traffic, as they have become dangerous, said Surendra Dhanetra, gram pradhan of Dangtoli village located in the Pinder river valley.

“It will take a long time to get the roads operational again. The indiscriminate hacking into the mountain sides in order to widen and repair the roads has become a menace for inhabitants of the villages nearby,” Dhanetra said.

Landslides at several places in Uttarakhand post heavy rainfall. Photo: @sdcfoundationuk/twitter

In Nainital district, Gaula river is in full spate and a flood alert has been issued. “Five state highways and eleven roads leading to several rural areas in the district are inundated with debris from the torrential rains and the state government has organised earth movers to clear the roads for traffic,” Lalit Joshi, a local journalist who lives in Nainital told Gaon Connection.

In Dharchula in Pithoragarh district, the rivers Kali and Dhauli are steadily rising. As a result, on June 18, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) had to raise the gates of the Chirkila dam to release the waters. “We have issued an alert to the people living downstream,” Preet Pal Singh Wilk, General Manager NHPC, Dharchula, told Gaon Connection.

Dharchula is still in danger as the waters continue to rise and communication services are poor. Darma valley, Vyas valley, Tawaghat and Chaudas are all cut off as roads are closed.

Two people lost their lives when they were hit by rocks hurtling down the mountain sides in Pithoragarh, according to RS Rautela, Circle Officer Pithoragarh. Sixty-five-year-old Dafedar Singh, a labourer from Uttar Pradesh was hit on the head and he died on his way to the hospital. This happened in Sungri, Gangolihat in the district.

A vegetable trader, 55-year-old Khalil Ahmed, also lost his life when a boulder hit him as he waited by his truck near the Ghat bridge, Pitoragar. Ahmed was going to Pilibhit to fetch vegetables for Pitoragarh. 

Also Read: Invitation to Disaster: Even before the Uttarakhand disaster, NTPC was violating muck disposal norms at Tapovan project

Families have been shifted to safer areas as heavy downpour in the state has caused increasing water level of rivers in Uttarakhand. Photo: By arrangement

Rescue operations

Meanwhile, district administrations are actively evacuating, rescuing and carrying out relief work in the affected areas. Authorities responded promptly to the situation in Unibagad village in Chamoli. “All the villagers have been moved to safety. They are safe, but their homes are in danger of being washed away,” Sudhir Kumar, deputy collector, Chamoli, told Gaon Connection.

Thirteen families have been moved to safety by the district administration from Agarchatti village in Chamoli, as the level of water in Ram Ganga river rose dangerously. Similarly, as the Pinder river’s levels reached the danger mark, 14 families of Bainoli village in Tharali, Chamoli, were also moved to the safety of the village school. 

Also Read: Uttarakhand gets its first doppler radar to predict extreme weather events; two more radars in the offing

The heavy downpour in the hilly areas of Uttarakhand, has also impacted life in the plains. In Rishikesh, the river Ganges was flowing just nine metres below the danger level. The famous Triveni ghat, Parmarth ghat, and others are fully submerged.

The authorities have shifted the families from their homes to safer places. Photo: By arrangement

The irrigation department has opened all the gates of the Ganga barrage, in Rishikesh. The disaster management team is keeping a watch over the level of the Ganga river as Muni Ki Reti and Lakshman Jhula are also in danger. Meanwhile, the authorities have shut down Chilla power house in Pauri Garhwal district because of the danger of the debris being carried by the river damaging the machinery in the powerhouse. So there is no power being generated there, even now.

“The administration is doing everything in its power and is ready to combat any disaster,” DC Dhoundiyal, Circle Officer Rishikesh, said at a press conference in Rishikesh on June 19.

The river police and divers have been stationed at the danger areas. Two hundred and fifty people who lost their homes in Chandrabhaga Basti in Rishikesh and 300 others who lived by the river have been moved to nearby dharamshalas where they are being provided boarding and lodging by the local administration.

Also Read: Heavy rainfall triggers flash floods, landslides in Uttarakhand, red alert in 9 districts