A record-breaking rainfall drenched across India and Nepal in recent days leaving more than 150 dead people, and dozens more missing.
The heavy late monsoon rains triggered flash floods, destroyed homes, crops, and infrastructure, and left thousands stranded.
According to Nepal’s Home Ministry, 77 people died this week from floods and landslides, after heavy rainfall that began on Monday. Some 22 people were injured, and 26 are missing.
The flooding mainly took place in regions across Western Nepal, close to the neighboring northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.
In Nainital, a popular tourist destination in the Himalayan state, the town’s main lake broke its banks, submerging the main thoroughfare and damaging bridges and rail tracks.
In the nearby Chamoli district, rescuers from India’s paramilitary National Disaster Response Force continued to search debris following landslides caused by the heavy rains.
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In the south Indian state of Kerala, the death toll rose to 39 on Wednesday after extreme weather over the weekend battered the region, causing devastating damage and floods.
Uttarakhand’s picturesque Kumaon region was particularly badly hit by flooding that washed away homes and vehicles. The army and the national defense force were dispatched to the Himalayan state to help with rescue efforts as residents and tourists were left stranded and dozens of trekkers hiking in the mountains had to be rescued. Many districts remained cut off after roads were blocked with mud and debris. The Ganges burst its banks in the holy city of Rishikesh.
Nainital, a district in Uttarakhand, received 340mm (13.4in) of rainfall over 24 hours on Tuesday, the highest registered since a weather station was set up there in 1897. Nainital’s famous lake overflowed, causing flash flooding and cutting off the area entirely.
The river flooding also affected the periphery of Jim Corbett national park, which is home to tigers and elephants. A video that went viral showed a distressed elephant stranded on a small island in the middle of the overflowing Gaula river. According to wildlife park officials, the elephant managed to successfully swim to safety through the fast-flowing waters.
Heavy rain in October is highly unusual in India and Nepal, as the monsoons have usually departed the region. However, this year the monsoon in India was delayed, meaning the rains have continued for weeks longer than normal, triggering unusual weather events.
The extreme weather in north India and Nepal was caused by a disturbance that originated in the Mediterranean and then slammed into the Himalayan mountains, leading to heavy rain spells and cloudbursts.
In both Nepal and India, authorities warned there would be more heavy rainfall to come later this week. So far in October, Uttarakhand has received 485% more rain than average, according to India Meteorological Department data, while Kerala’s average rainfall was up by 135% on the average, leading to several dams being opened after they reached capacity.
Extreme weather has been attributed to the climate crisis. Uttarakhand has experienced a sharp increase in heavy rainfall events and cloudbursts, reporting more than 7,750 since 2015, while Kerala has experienced severe flooding multiple times over the past three years.
Experts say that in states such as Uttarakhand, the problems are exacerbated by the intense development of the mountain region, including the construction of dams and roads in the fragile Himalayas. These vast projects often encroach on rivers, destabilizing the mountains and making the region more prone to extreme weather events.
Population growth in the mountain areas, which has led to houses being built in hilly areas and forests cut down across the state, has also been blamed for exacerbating landslides when heavy rains fall.
Glacial melting has also become increasingly dangerous in Uttarakhand. In February, hundreds died after flash floods, caused by a hanging glacier crashing through two vast hydropower dams in a river valley.
Two observatories in the Kumaun region of the state, where Nainital is located, recorded 340.8 millimeters (13.4 inches) of rainfall and 403.2 millimeters (15.8 inches) respectively, marking the highest rainfall over a 24-hour period ever recorded in the region, the Indian Meteorological Department said Tuesday.
The Himalayan state is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam.
Meanwhile in Kerala, more than 200 families are currently in 26 evacuation camps across the state. With heavy rainfall forecast to continue in the coming days, state authorities are urging residents to stay indoors.