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India's glacier collapse: At least 19 dead, more than 200 missing

“This looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting,” a leading scientist said.
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The number of people missing and feared dead after a Himalayan glacier burst and unleashed a huge rush of water and debris that crashed into two dams in northern India jumped to more than 200 Monday.

Initially, first responders in the state of Uttarakhand said some 150 were missing after the disaster Sunday. Nineteen are confirmed to have been killed.

Rescue teams worked through the night to find survivors and recover bodies, according to the state's chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat.

“Our rescue operations are in full swing and we are hoping to save more lives,” Rawat said in a tweet.

Rescuers were working to remove people trapped inside two tunnels that were blocked with debris, according to police.

Image: Rescue personnel adjust ropes during rescue operation after a glacier burst, Feb. 7, 2021, in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, India.
Rescue personnel adjust ropes during rescue operation after a glacier burst in Uttarakhand on Sunday. State Disaster Force / Reuters

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police rescued 12 people from one of the tunnels. They were sent to the hospital for treatment, officials said.

At least 34 people remained trapped inside another tunnel, the Union Minister of Power and New and Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh, told reporters. Rescuers have been battling to reach them, but are facing a tough challenge because of the debris buildup.

Singh said that rescuers had got through some 230 feet into the tunnel but had a further 590 feet to go.

More than 2,000 members of the military, paramilitary forces and police have been taking part in search-and-rescue operations, according to The Associated Press.

The Geological Survey of India was investigating what caused the glacier to burst and will send a team of experts into the area to look for possible causes.

Already, however, researchers are pointing at climate change as a contributing factor in the glacier's collapse.

Anjal Prakash, coordinating lead author of a 2018 special report by the U.N.'s climate body, said climate change has altered the frequency and magnitude of the natural hazards in high mountain regions of the world.

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And while data on the cause of the disaster was not yet available, “this looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming,” he said.

Dave Petley, professor of landslide science at U.K.’s University of Sheffield, said there is evidence that massive landslides were becoming more frequent in high mountain areas.

“The cause of this is likely to be the impacts of warming," he added. "The rock masses in the high mountains are stuck together with ice in cracks and fractures. As this ice thaws, the incidence of these events increases.”

A 2019 report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development has found that more than a third of the ice in the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush mountain range will melt by 2100 even if governments take tough action to limit global warming under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Two-thirds of the ice could vanish if governments fail to rein in greenhouse gas emissions this century, it added.