New Delhi, Feb 9 (efe-epa).- The recent Himalayan disaster in north India that killed 29 may have been caused by a landslide and not a glacial rupture as believed earlier, a geologist said on Tuesday after analyzing satellite imagery.
The images captured before and after the disaster indicate that the massive flooding in the northern state of Uttarakhand was triggered by a pile of freshly-accumulated snow that collapsed into a ridge area, bringing columns of mud and rocks downstream.
Santosh Kumar Rai, who heads the glacial studies at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in the state capital Dehradun, told EFE that it might not have been because of part of a glacial lake outburst as was widely reported earlier.
Rai said Feb.2 satellite images show that there was not much snow on the upper ridges.
There was a heavy snowfall on Feb.6, and images captured a day later showed that the accumulated snow pile from an overnight flurry had “all gone down the hill,” Rai said.
He said the glacial outburst reason did not hold water because “the height of the upper ridges is more than 4,500 meters and, at that height, the temperature is quite low.”
The disaster in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district occurred on Sunday morning on the Nanda Devi mountain, which houses a big glacier with the same name.
The deluge of gushing mud, water, and rocks damaged at least two under-construction power plants.
Within moments, the entire downhill area got submerged in floodwater that gushed down the mountain streams, shocking the people in the area and prompting thousands to evacuate.
Nearly 170 persons are still missing as rescuers continue to look for survivors.
Ashok Kumar, Uttarakhand police chief, said the rescue work to find the missing continued on the third day of the tragedy.
“A total of 29 bodies have been recovered so far,” Kumar said in a media interview posted on the Chamoli police Facebook page.
Most of the missing people were workers at the two hydro-power plants, among many the government has been constructing with private players for development in the mountainous and ecologically fragile state.
The initial glacial burst theory had drawn the attention of environmentalists and activists to the combination of factors related to climate change and infrastructure development in the region.
The geologist said it might not have been a manmade environmental disaster even as he admitted that some infrastructure development activities had taken place and power projects installed in the region close to the India-China border.
“The area is not heavily patterned by anthropogenic factors. Only some power project was being installed. This region is very close to India-China borders, so that is why no many population reside there,” said Rai.
“Some roads have been constructed there as part of India development but that is not the principal reason I think which can trigger (this) type of catastrophe.” EFE-EPA