A laborer talks with State Disaster Response Fund personnel after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads in Reni village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on Feb. 7. (Photo: AFP)
At least 14 people were killed and some 160 are missing after an unprecedented glacier burst in the Himalayas triggered massive floods in northern India's Uttarakhand state.
Government officials told the media that a Himalayan glacier piece fell into a river on Feb. 7 and caused a surge that swept away bridges and roads in Reni village in the state's Chamoli district.
The surging water and rocks in the Dhauli Ganga River also damaged a small dam and trapped some 125 people on the banks of the river.
Rescue teams have recovered 14 bodies and are searching for more people. Authorities have also evacuated people from riverbanks.
"We are saddened by the news of precious lives lost. We pray that the missing people may come home safe," retired Bishop John Vadakel of Bijnor, which covers the area, told UCA News on Feb. 8
"It was a flash flood, a natural calamity. The government is doing its best to help the affected people. As far as the Church is concerned, we have to wait and watch the situation.
"The place where the incident happened is extremely harsh. The weather and terrain are very harsh, and very few people live there."
He said only those working at the now damaged Rishiganga Hydel project live in the area.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was monitoring the situation. "India stands with Uttarakhand, and the nation prays for everyone's safety there," he said.
Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxists), criticized the Modi government for not taking adequate measures to mitigate the impact of natural disasters.
"Despite the PM's bombastic claims, every passing day exposes the manifold increase in the frequency of disasters claiming lives," Yechury tweeted.
According to a senior scientist at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, a glacier lake might have been present in the area for some time but not known to scientists.
Human rights activist A.C. Michael told UCA News that Uttarakhand is "a region least monitored and is vulnerable."
Michael, a former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, wanted the government to spend more resources in monitoring the region so that better information is available to the government and public to secure people's lives.
Uttarakhand, which is in the lap of the Himalayas, is prone to disasters.
In June 2013, the tiny state experienced a cloud burst that resulted in devastating floods and landslides that killed an estimated 5,700 people. It was described as India's worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami.