Many Dead & Missing After Flooding Across India

In October 2021, a number of regions in India became inundated with heavy rains, causing mass flooding and landslides. This article discusses the situation.

On October 15, 2021, India began experiencing mass flooding and landslides from coast to coast on a sizeable scale. Heavy rains began impacting the southwestern state of Kerala on the 15th, triggering landslides and flooding that resulted in 27 casualties by the 18th, in addition to severe damage to homes. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Kottayam and Idukki districts were hit the hardest at this point, having received 164.5mm and 305.5 mm of rainfall respectively. By the 17th, 156 relief camps opened, with 1,253 families (or 4,713 individuals) being evacuated to a number of camps.

Figure 1 – Map of Landslides & Floods in Kerala

With Kerala experiencing high-intensity floods due to heavy and incessant rains over a few days, residents were cut off in part of the coastal state. These heavy rains triggered landslides and overflowed many rivers, sweeping roads away, damaging houses, and uprooting trees. At this point, at least 26 people were reported to have died in landslides and floods in the southwestern portion of India. Sadly, 5 children were among those dead, and there are fears that this death toll will continue to rise, as many people have been reported as missing.

By the 18th, 11 bodies had been found in the Idukki district and another 14 in Kottayam, and on the 19th, the fatalities from both districts rose to 38 – 24 of which have been directly attributed to massive landslides. That same day, 90 destroyed houses and 700 damaged ones were reported across both districts, causing the Kerala Government to order the release of water from Idukki Dam due to the high water levels. This forced emergency crews to evacuate over 220 people downstream from the dam in advance of the release.

The update on October 19th from the National Emergency Response Centre (NDMI) reported 27 fatalities that occurred on October 18th and 19th alone. This was due to several landslides across 13 districts in central-northern Uttarakhand, which borders China and Nepal. The NDMI also reported 8 people are still missing and the successful evacuation of another 645 people. National authorities have deployed 15 teams for rescue and relief operations, and have announced an ex-gratia of INR 400,000 (or about $6,584 CAD) to the families of those who died due to “rain-related tragedies.”

Ex-Gratia: Usually, organizations, governments, and insurers will only provide compensation to victims if they are legally required to do so. As such, ex-gratia payments are not very common, as they come more from a moral responsibility than a legal one.

Today, on October 20th, the number of casualties rose to 52, with 8 individuals still missing. As well, light to moderate rain is forecast over various districts of Uttarakhand, including the already impacted ones. The Central Water Commission (CWC) has issued a red warning (extreme flood situation) and an orange warning (severe flood situation) for 6 districts.

Figure 6 – Tapovan Hydropower Plant Site

Sadly, this is not the first time in 2021 that India has been hit with devastating floods. Just last month in September, the Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan States were hit with heavy rains and lightning, leading to the deaths of at least 180 people after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooded low-lying areas, cutting off hundreds of villages. Another terrible incident occurred earlier in the year in February when a chunk of a glacier broke off in Uttarakhand, causing mass flooding and landslides. As the water level increased in the stream it burst – causing a surge of water and rubble to rush down, breaching the dam and causing massive floods downstream. This disaster left more than 200 people missing or dead – 140 of who were workers at the Tapovan Hydropower Plant site, which was flooded and collapsed, trapping workers in the tunnels (see Figure 6). It wasn’t until about 4 months later in May, that district disaster management reported that “83 bodies and 36 human body parts out of a total of 204 people missing have been recovered so far.” These are not the only instances in 2021 either; India continues to suffer significantly from the impacts of climate change, with disasters such as mass floods only becoming more common.

Interested in learning more about flooding and how it has impacted other countries? See our article on flooding and wildfires in Greece.

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