Up to 150 people are feared dead after part of a mountain glacier broke off and sent flood water and rocks crashing down a valley in northern India, destroying a hydroelectric dam and seriously damaging another.
A number of villages in the vicinity have been evacuated and a massive search operation is underway. The bodies of nine people have so far been recovered.
“It came very fast, there was no time to alert anyone,” Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives on the upper reaches of the river in Raini village, told Reuters by phone. “I felt that even we would be swept away.”
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said 125 people were missing but the number could rise. Earlier state chief secretary Om Prakash said 100 to 150 people were feared dead.
A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in the Tapovan area of the northern state of Uttarakhand on Sunday morning, damaging the Rishiganga and Dhauliganga hydropower projects.
The Rishiganga hydropower plant was destroyed, while the Dhauliganga hydropower plant was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the paramilitary Indo Tibetan Border Police.
Both are on the Alaknanda River, which flows from the Himalayan mountains to the Ganges River.
Footage shared by locals showed the water washing away parts of the Rishiganga dam and everything else in its path. At least 180 sheep were also washed away.
Videos on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation”.
He added: “India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there.”
It was not immediately clear what had set off the avalanche at a time when it is not the flood season.
In 2013, thousands of people were killed in Uttarakhand after heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, washing away thousands of houses and roads and cutting communication links in many parts of the state.