A cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in north Sikkim on Wednesday led to a flash flood in the Teesta River basin, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 14 lives. Among those affected, 80 individuals, including 22 army personnel, are currently missing.
The deceased, all identified as civilians, include three individuals whose bodies were discovered in north Bengal. Additionally, one of the 23 missing army personnel was successfully rescued later in the day.
The flood, which commenced around 1:30 am, was exacerbated by the release of water from the Chungthang dam, according to officials. Sikkim Chief Secretary V B Pathak reported that over 3,000 tourists from various parts of the country are stranded in different areas of Sikkim.
Satellite Images Show Devastation in
Nearly 65% of Sikkim’s Lhonak Lake – around 105 hectares – has been drained after a cloudburst forced the water body to overflow and trigger flash floods in the Teesta River. Temporal satellite images (referring to before-and-after) released Wednesday evening by space agency ISRO show dramatic changes in the volume of water in the lake; photos taken on September 17 and September 28 show the bullet-shaped lake holding 162.7 and 167.4 hectares, respectively.
An image taken at 6 am on Wednesday morning – after the cloudburst and flash flood wreaked havoc in the state. “Temporal changes in the lake area – as on September 17, September 28, and October 4. It is observed the lake is burst and about 105 hectares has been drained out, which might have created a flash flood downstream… will continue monitoring the lake using the satellite data,” ISRO said.
Furthermore, numerous workers employed at the Teesta Stage III dam in Chungthang find themselves trapped within the tunnels of the dam, Pathak noted.
14 Bridges Have Collapsed
The Sikkim Chief Secretary said that the road infrastructure has suffered extensive damage due to flooding as 14 bridges have collapsed with nine of them being under Border Roads Organization (BRO) and five others belonging to the state government.
Scores of people missing and injured have been reported from Chungthang in Mangan district, and Dikchu, Singtam in Gangtok district, and Rangpo in Pakyong district, Pathak said. Another official said some 166 people have so far been rescued, including the army man.
PM Speaks to CM Prem Singh Tamang
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang on Wednesday to take stock of the situation in the state and assured him of all possible support.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also prayed for the well-being of the missing army personnel.
Sikkim Govt Declares Calamity a Disaster
The Sikkim government, in a notification, said the natural calamity has been declared as a disaster. The release of water from the Chungthang dam led to a sudden increase in water levels up to 15-20 feet high downstream, the defence spokesperson said.
“Twenty-two army personnel have been reported missing and 41 vehicles submerged under the slush,” he said.
Trishakti Corps Launch Massive Search Ops for Missing Army Jawans
Troops of Trishakti Corps launched a massive search operation to trace the 23 missing soldiers amid heavy rain and rescued one of them in the evening.
“A steel bridge at Singtam, known as Indreni bridge, 30 km from the state capital Gangtok has been completely washed away by Teesta river water early Wednesday,” another Sikkim government official said.
Rajeev Bhattacharya, 25, a tourist from Kolkata who was on a trek from Gangtok towards Singtam, told newsagency PTI over the phone: “We saw a huge wave of water rushing at great speed through the valley and mangled remains of structures being swept away. Luckily, my friends and I were on high ground and not affected by the flash flood. We are now making our way back to Gangtok.” Several towns, including Dikchu, Singtam, and Rangpo located in the Teesta basin, have also been flooded with the upsurge in the river.
Meanwhile, all schools located in Mangan, Gangtok, Pakyong, and Namchi districts will remain closed till October 8, the education department said.
Parts of National Highway-10, the main link between Sikkim and the rest of the country, were washed away, the officials said, adding, a flood alert has been issued for North Bengal and Bangladesh through which the Teesta flows.