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NEW DELHI: Ice-cold floodwaters swept through mountain towns in India’s Himalayan northeast, killing at least 31 people, washing away houses and bridges, and forcing thousands of people to leave their homes, officials said Thursday.
The flood began Wednesday when the waters of a glacial lake breached a hydroelectric dam, cascading through towns in the Lachen Valley.
It was the latest deadly flood to hit northeast India in a year of unusually heavy monsoon rains. Nearly 50 people died in flash floods and landslides in August in nearby Himachal Pradesh state, record rains in July killed more than 100 people over two weeks in northern India.
Rescue workers were searching for nearly 100 people, including 22 soldiers, on Thursday, according to the Sikkim state government.
More than 2,000 people were rescued after Wednesday’s floods, the Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority said in a statement, adding that state authorities set up 26 relief camps for more than 22,000 people impacted by the floods.
Twenty-six people have suffered injuries and were undergoing treatment at various hospitals across Sikkim, said Vinay Bhushan Pathak, the top state bureaucrat.
One soldier who had been reported missing on Wednesday was later rescued by authorities, the army said in a statement.
The Press Trust of India news agency cited a statement by neighboring West Bengal state as saying that the bodies of four soldiers were found. However, it wasn’t immediately clear whether they were among the 22 missing soldiers, or had died separately.
Some army camps and vehicles were submerged under mud following the floods, the army said.
Pathak said that nearly 3,000 tourists and 700 drivers with their vehicles have been stranded in the flood-hit areas.
“We are evacuating them through helicopters provided by the army and the air force,” he said.
The army is extending medical aid and phone connectivity to civilians and tourists stranded in the areas of Chungthang, Lachung and Lachen in north Sikkim, the army statement said.
Eleven bridges were washed away by the floodwaters, which also hit pipelines and damaged or destroyed more than 270 houses in four districts, officials said.
The flooding occurred along the Teesta River in the Lachen Valley in Sikkim state and was worsened when parts of a dam were washed away.
Several towns, including Dikchu and Rangpo in the Teesta basin, were flooded, and schools in four districts were ordered shut until Sunday, the state’s education department said.
Parts of a highway that links Sikkim, the state capital, with the rest of the country were washed away.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office said in a statement that the government would support state authorities in the aftermath of the flooding.
The mountainous Himalayan region where Sikkim is located has seen heavy monsoon rains this season.
Nearly 50 people died in flash floods and landslides in August in nearby Himachal Pradesh state. Record rains in July killed more than 100 people over two weeks in northern India, as roads were waterlogged and homes collapsed.
Disasters caused by landslides and floods are common in India’s Himalayan region during the June-September monsoon season. Scientists say they are becoming more frequent as global warming contributes to the melting of glaciers there.
“This is, incredibly sadly, another classic case of a cascading hazard chain that amplifies as you go downstream,” said Jakob Steiner, a climate scientist with the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, commenting on Wednesday’s flash flooding.
Earlier this year, Steiner’s organization published a report saying that Himalayan glaciers could lose 80 percent of their volume if global warming isn’t controlled.
In February 2021, flash floods killed nearly 200 people and washed away houses in Uttarakhand state in northern India.

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