The Lhonak Lake in the mountainous northeastern state of Sikkim overflowed on Wednesday after a cloudburst triggered torrential rains and an apparent avalanche, causing major flooding in the Teesta River.
It is one of the worst disasters in the region in more than 50 years and the latest in a series of extreme weather events that have caused widespread damage in South Asia’s Himalayas in recent years, blamed by scientists on climate change.
Authorities in Sikkim said the latest disaster, which came ahead of a popular festive and tourism season in the scenic state, had impacted the lives of 22,000 people.
Scientists and government authorities were working on an early warning system for glacial floods at Lhonak Lake which could have given people more time to evacuate if fully operational, officials involved in the project told Reuters.
Sikkim officials had put the death toll at 18 on Thursday evening. Officials in the neighbouring downstream state of West Bengal told Reuters that emergency teams recovered another 22 bodies that had been washed away.
The army said it is planning to evacuate nearly 1,500 stranded tourists using helicopters as weather in the region improves.
Heavy rain is forecast in parts of the region on Friday but the intensity of showers is likely to ease, the India Meteorological Department said.
Sikkim, a small Buddhist state of about 650,000 people which is wedged in the mountains between Nepal, Bhutan and China, has been cut off from Siliguri in West Bengal as the main highway, which links it to the rest of the country, had collapsedFollow TKG on Twitter & Facebook