Heavy rainfall triggers sudden flooding in northeastern India, resulting in fatalities and submerging towns

A sudden heavy rainfall triggered flash floods Wednesday in northeastern India that swamped several towns, washed away a bridge and submerged army camps, killing eight civilians and leaving 23 soldiers missing, the army and news reports said.

The flooding took place along the Teesta River in the Lachen Valley of India’s state of Sikkim, and was worsened when parts of a dam were washed away, the New Delhi Television channel said.

Some army camps and vehicles were submerged under mud and search efforts for the 23 missing soldiers were underway, the Indian army said in a statement. Defense authorities said that 80 residents of nearby areas have been safely evacuated.

A bridge over the Teesta River was washed away in the floods early Wednesday, television images showed.

Authorities found the bodies of eight civilians — five of them from the Golitar and Singtam regions, the Press Trust of India news agency cited Magistrate Mahendra Chettri as saying.

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Several other towns, including Dikchu and Rangpo in the Teesta basin, also were flooded and schools in four districts were shut for four days, the state education department said. Parts of a highway that links Sikkim, the state capital, with the rest of the country were washed away, PTI said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office said in a statement that the government would support state authorities in meeting the challenges from the flooding.

India Sikkim Floods

Water levels of the Teesta river rises in Sikkim, India, on Oct. 4, 2023.  (Indian Army via AP)

The flooding was caused by cloudbursts — sudden, very heavy rains — which are defined as when more than 3.9 inches of rainfall occurs within 3.8 square miles within an hour. Cloudbursts can cause intense flooding and landslides affecting thousands of people.

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.

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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.

In February 2021, flash floods killed nearly 200 people and washed away houses in Uttarakhand.

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