Flash floods bring devastation to Uttarkhand in northern India

Publié: 21 juin 2013 14:06 CET

By Ika Koeck, IFRC

Heavy monsoon rains have triggered flash floods across Northern India, killing over 200 people and leaving tens of thousands stranded across the mountainous State of Uttarkhand. Officials say that the death toll could increase dramatically as many areas remain inaccessible.

Rescue operations are being hampered by damaged roads, continued bad weather and landslides. Many people are thought to have been washed away by the violent floods that swept down the River Ganges and its tributaries. Many of those affected are Hindu pilgrims and tourists from across the country visiting holy shrines in the province.

Military helicopters and some 10,000 soldiers are engaged in search and rescue missions and have evacuated thousands of people, many of whom are sheltering in temporary relief camps. More than 50,000 people are thought to be stranded.

The Indian Red Cross Society is responding to the disaster from its National Headquarters in Delhi and through its Uttarkhand state branch in Dehradun. Trucks of relief supplies including tents and kitchen sets and a water purification unit have been dispatched from Delhi.

In Uttarkhand, efforts are being made to mobilize 5,000 first medical responders – Red Cross volunteers who are who have been trained in emergency first aid and disaster management skills. However, with communication lines down across the state, it is proving difficult to establishing contact with volunteers, many of whom are from affected areas.

The Red Cross is working closely with the local authorities, helping in evacuation and rescue efforts as well as setting up relief camps and establishing its restoring family links service to help families who have lost contact with their relatives in the area.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has deployed disaster management specialists to Dehradun to assist in the coordination of the National Society’s relief efforts.

In Uttarkhand there have been more than 15 landslides in the past two days which have left many roads blocked or damaged. More than 20 bridges have collapsed making it almost impossible for stranded people to reach safer areas.

Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna, dubbed the flash floods a ‘Himalayan tsunami’ as rivers became raging torrents, destroying everything in their path.

Monsoon rains in northern India have been particularly heavy this year, with Dehradun, receiving 37 centimetres of rain in 24 hours between June 16 and 17, the most rainfall ever recorded in the city, according to an official from the India Meteorological Department.

Rains have also been heavy upstream in Nepal, triggering flooding in the Mahakali River and devastating areas in the district of Darchula and Kanchanpur where 25 people were killed and over 5,000 had to leave their homes.

The Nepal Red Cross Society immediately mobilized their disaster response teams, distributing non-food items including blankets, tarpaulins and food to affected families. The teams are also engaged in rescue operations to help people who remain trapped in the flooded areas, transporting them to safer locations.

This year's monsoon has travelled across the Indian sub-continent at the fastest rate in more than half a century, advancing about a month ahead of its normal projected path.