Two hydroelectric projects damaged, hundreds missing after glacier fall in India

It has been reported that a glacier bursting or falling, and sending a mass of water and debris downstream – decimating two hydroelectric power plants and the associated dams – has killed 19 people, with more than 200 missing, in Uttarakhand State in India.

Uttarakhand is located at the foothills of the Himalayan mountain ranges. It is largely a hilly state, having international boundaries with China (Tibet) in the north and Nepal in the east. 

Multiple news agencies have reported on the tragedy. According to CNN, on Sunday, Feb. 7, after 10 a.m. local time, a piece of the Nanda Devi glacier broke apart, sending torrents of water down the Dhauli Ganga river valley. Indian website The Print reported that scientists studying satellite imagery from before and after the disaster say a chunk of glacier appears to have crashed down a mountain, triggering a landslide and subsequent floods.

The 13.2-MW Rishiganga (or Rishi Ganga) Power project was completely washed away in the deluge, India’s Ministry of Power said in a statement Monday, Feb. 8. The state’s chief minister said 35 people were working at the plant at the time of the incident and “roughly 29 to 30 people are missing.” The project was commissioned in 2000, according to The Tribune India, and appears to be privately owned.

Rising waters prompted authorities to issue urgent evacuation notices to people living further down the Alaknanda River, CNN said.

The flash floods surged down the valley and caused extensive damage to the 520-MW Tapovan Vishnugad hydro project, under construction about 5 km away from Rishiganga. About 176 laborers were working on that site, which has two tunnels and is owned by NTPC, India’s largest power utility. He warned more than 30 workers could be stuck in the second tunnel, which is difficult to access because the surrounding road is covered in debris.

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) released a statement Feb. 7 expressing its condolences to the families of those killed or missing in the Indian state of Uttarakhand following reports of a natural disaster damaging a local hydropower project.

“There is still much we do not know about the circumstances of this tragic incident, but it is clear that families will be grieving tonight. The worldwide hydropower community will want to join with IHA in offering our deepest condolences to those affected by this tragedy. Our thoughts are with them and the emergency services engaged in the search and rescue effort,” said IHA Chief Executive Eddie Rich.

“Sadly climate change means we will see more and more weather-related natural disasters. Over the long term we need to address climate change by accelerating the energy transition while also making renewable projects and other infrastructure more climate resilient. At IHA, we recognize the importance of climate resilience and building hydropower projects sustainably and have developed international guidelines for the sector.”

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