LUCKNOW, India (AP) – Authorities in an Indian Himalayan city halted construction activity and began moving hundreds of people into temporary shelters after a temple collapsed and more than 600 homes were destroyed by a landslide. The cracks have opened, officials said on Saturday.
Residents of Joshimath city in Uttarakhand state say they started noticing cracks in houses, especially after the 2021 floods in the region. No casualty was reported in the late Friday night temple collapse and the residents had vacated the area a day earlier.
District Administrator Himanshu Khurana said that more than 60 families have been moved to government relief camps. Media reports say the number is likely to go up to 600 families.
Television images also showed cracks in the roads, disrupting vehicular movement.
Ranjit Sinha, a top state disaster management official, said the immediate cause of the cracks “appears to be a faulty drainage system, which resulted in water seeping under the houses that caused them to submerge.”
The government will pay 4,000 rupees ($50) a month for six months to those left homeless in Joshimath, a temple town of about 25,000 people located at an altitude of 1,890 meters (6,200 feet) and home to major Hindu pilgrimages as well as trekking falls on Circuit, Khurana said.
Thousands of pilgrims heading to Badrinath and Him Kund Sahib, major Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage sites, pass through Joshimath, which is 490 kilometers (305 mi) northeast of New Delhi. The huge influx of pilgrims and tourists saw the city expand rapidly over the years with massive construction of buildings and roadways, which some experts have linked to a lack of land.
Construction activities that were temporarily halted include the Chardham all-weather road – a major federal government undertaking to connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites, to nearby Auli to carry pilgrims and tourists pulled by ropes The project for the installation of trolleys and hydroelectric power stations.
Devastating cloudbursts in the region – excessive rainfall in a short period of time – resulted in hundreds of deaths in 2013 as well as severe flooding in 2021. Experts say that rapidly shrinking glaciers due to climate change is another reason the region is vulnerable to frequent disasters.
“Between 2015 and mid-2021, at least 7,750 extreme rainfall and cloudburst incidents have been recorded in Uttarakhand. Such instances are harmful for Joshimath as they can increase the number of buildings affected, ultimately increasing the vulnerability of local people,” said Kavita Upadhyay, a water-policy expert currently at Oslo Metropolitan University’s Riverine Research Institute. is a research associate at The Wrights Project.
Upadhyay, who is from Uttarakhand and lives in the region, said uncontrolled tourist inflow along with large-scale infrastructure projects have also contributed to the land sinking.
The slopes of Joshimath are made of debris from landslides. This means that there is a limit to which the city can become burdened with buildings or disturbed by activities such as the construction of large infrastructure projects such as dams and roads.
A study by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority warned that construction by removing stones and blasting the hill would cause serious damage to the environment.
In May last year, Meera Rawat, a resident, was startled while cooking in the kitchen when she heard a rumbling sound of water running under the floor.
“That day, I realized that something bad was going to happen in our town Joshimath. In September, I noticed a small crack in the floor. In December, it widened and we vacated the house,” said Meera.
Associated Press writer Sibi Arasu in Bengaluru, India contributed to this report.
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