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com | Sorrow Avalanche
MAGAZINE | JUL 15, 2013
Doubly hit Two events coincided to wreak havoc upon Kedar valley
HELL IN THE HIMALAYAS
Geologists are not surprised by the scale of the Uttarakhand tragedy
White site: The Kedarnath shrine is located in such a place that, in winter, a single snowstorm can cause the accumulation of some two metres of snow and ice around it. 7 thousand cubic metres of snow can have an impact force of 85 tonnes/cubic metre *** According to scientific estimates, the loss of human lives in what the Uttarakhand chief minister called a “Himalayan tsunami” could be as high as 25,000 or more. That would be no exaggeration, say geologists who have studied the Himalayan region and prepared plans to better protect the ecologically sensitive region and its people from disasters such as the one that struck on June 16. Glaciologists of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) have studied Kedarnath and the surrounding areas in great detail. With his team, Deepak Srivastava, a former director of GSI and an eminent glaciologist, has explored the region. The reasons they offer for what happened and for the scale of the tragedy are not surprising: the number of visitors to the shrine and the tourists in the region has increased enormously, causing immense damage to the ecology. Ill-planned construction of hotels, ashrams, eateries and businesses has added to the depredation on nature. “Since I know the terrain and have explored it many times, I can tell you that it’s no exaggeration that thousands of deaths have taken place,” says Ravi Chopra, an IITian
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” V. and that of 100 tonnes per cubic metre can rip out concrete structures. Moreover. slope conditions and the geomorphologic setting. There are methods that help avert such tragedies—if only they had been followed. water impounded behind the moraine broke through causing a catastrophic flow of debris.K. it’s useful to know that an impact force of 10 tonnes per cubic metre can uproot trees. The terraces formed by these moraines are fairly wide and people are tempted to start construction on both sides. “It’s the digging up that has caused devastation of such magnitude.8 tonnes per cubic metre. is naturally not so safe. says. It would be no exaggeration to say that thousands have died. but if there is one it can be of a high order.com/printarticle. for buildings can funnel the wind and add to the damage. due to absence of any such barrier.” he says. In the valley around Garudchatti. high rainfall in a space of few days. Glaciologist. adds to their vulnerability.K. The constant movement of people and construction was paving the way for such an incident.” says Chopra. there are rhododendron bushes and the area near Ghuinderpani has pine and birch trees. Cloudbursts and mountains have had a long association. Ex-director GSI 2 of 2 6/7/2013 1:17 AM . It was such an avalanche that had in the past uprooted a micro hydel project and damaged the Bharat Sewashram in the Kedar valley. In monsoon. They also say the development of a proper drainage system can render the area safe for habitation and construction. Dehradun. Second.aspx?286666 and environment researchers at the People’s Science Institute.” Joshi adds that the Himalayas are very fragile.” Deepak Srivastava. The right side. The bowl-shaped reservoir that has a single opening at the top. often creates a wind tunnel. The death toll can easily go beyond 10. Construction shouldn’t be allowed in the vicinity of the path of these avalanches. GSI Says Srivastava. on a different slope. have been deemed safe for construction. “Kedar was affected by two events: water held behind moraine broke free. But the right side should be left untouched. The location of Kedarnath township is such that during the winters a single snowstorm can precipitate up to 2 metres of snow. Avalanches depend upon several factors.800-4. former director of GSI.outlookindia. Simple approaches.outlookindia. the tragedy could have been avoided. A few hours earlier. Each avalanche with a route length of 900 metres and average ice volume of 70. Ex-director. besides human activity. But this recommendation has been ignored. “All of this contributes to creating the sort of disaster the state faced. Channels feeding the Mandakini originate from Chaurabari and companion glaciers and encircle the plain and meet below the township. Wind activity results in the formation of cornices and slabs. tourists and locals plying the pilgrim season. up to Lenchuri village. “The upper reaches of the Mandakini valley are devoid of vegetation except alpine grass. like limiting development and controlling the numbers of visitors are much more effective than any warning systems. The erosion by these streams has been such that it has cut through the water table in the upper part of the plain. Dr V. By Chandrani Banerjee in Uttarakhand and Delhi Click here to see the article in its standard web format “I know the terrain and have explored it many times. the construction of poorly engineered roads and the building of hydroelectric projects without proper slope management). Joshi. Both struck the town.” In his report.com | Sorrow Avalanche http://www. “It is a sensitive zone and ecologically sensitive construction could have turned out into a positive development instead of negative destruction. as mentioned in my report.000 meters. Scientists who have focused on the Kedar valley say that houses and hotels should not have been built at such vulnerable locations. and a landslide triggered a debris flow. Badrinath. These barren slopes are not able to hold the avalanches and this part is most avalanche-prone. physical and mechanical processes. If they had been in a safer location. Srivastava identified all of 28 possible avalanche zones. a landslide triggered a debris flow.” Geologists say that only the terraces on the left side. Generally such topographies do not generate regular avalanches. Kedarnath. “The explanation is that exceptionally heavy rainfall caused two catastrophic events in the space of a few hours. Kedarnath township is situated on a glacial outwash plain. the victims did not know where to go when the debris flow started. These were situated between altitudes of 3. To get an idea of what this means. This provides a good barrier against avalanches to the left side of the valley. The recommendation now is to limit development to places where it can be safely carried out. which can start extremely destructive wind-propelled avalanches. Constant oozing of water has made the place marshy.000 because there were such a lot of people—pilgrims. the valley walls are very steep with flat portions at the heads that provide ample space for accumulation of snow. stop environmental destruction (especially the loss of trees. In the first. Better warning systems and clearly identified evacuation routes would also help—it is clear that at all four pilgrim spots.891 cubic metres can generate an impact pressure of 84. Joshi. There can be no engineering solution against such geological hazards. behind Kedarnath. But there are ways to protect the mountains while managing water flow from cloudbursts to minimise destruction.” he says. partly because they are very young and are still being pushed up. raising cyclonic winds. I’ve been visiting Kedarnath since 1985. “Construction activity has weakened the ground. Geologists who have studied the region are of the opinion that there was rampant construction without following rules. and the ‘growth’ is quite visible to all. Between the morainic ridge to the left and the wall of the valley runs a nullah. like the nature of the snow pack. Gangotri and Yamunotri.www.
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