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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Scores Die in India as Monsoon Rains Swamp Towns and Send Boulders Tumbling


NEW DELHI — Within seconds, the scenic mountain valley resembled a war zone.

“Guys, we have to get out of here!” yelled a man filming the devastation unfolding in his hillside town in northern India on Sunday, as a landslide triggered by heavy monsoon rains sent heavy rocks tumbling down a steep slope and into a nearby stream.

When a boulder collided with their vehicle, at least nine people lost their lives. Their deaths brought the death toll in the country’s western coast to at least 164, with another 100 people reported missing, as a result of heavy rains that have flooded entire towns and villages.

The monsoons have always arrived in India with a vengeance. Experts, however, say that the scenes of death and devastation that are playing out across the country serve as yet another reminder of the urgency of combating climate change. Scientists have predicted that global warming will result in extreme rainfall in many parts of the world.

In recent weeks, heavy rains in central China and Western Europe have claimed the lives of dozens of people and forced thousands more to flee their homes. After a tropical storm flooded the Philippines’ capital, Manila, and surrounding provinces on Saturday, authorities ordered thousands of residents to leave their homes.

In India, Roxy Koll, a climate scientist who is one of the authors of a study released last week on how a warming climate will make heat waves and tropical storms more frequent and more severe in the country, said, “The threat of rising sea level is something that we often overlook and underestimate.”

The study’s authors, Mr. Koll and Chirag Dhara, an assistant professor at Krea University in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, wrote in their paper that “climate change is a threat multiplier.” Climate change is expected to pose significant challenges to the country’s rapid economic growth if mitigation and adaptation measures are not implemented quickly, effectively, and comprehensively, according to the report.

The monsoon rains are extremely important to India’s agrarian economy. Too little water results in a drought, while too much water results in catastrophic flooding. In many parts of the country, extreme rainfall has washed away fertile soil, while droughts have depleted groundwater reserves that have been depleting at an alarming rate for years. They have worked together to bring misery and death to the farms of India.

Heavy rains continued to batter the western state of Maharashtra over the weekend, causing rescue workers to struggle to reach areas cut off by flooding and landslides, according to reports. People were transported by boat in areas where the water had reached the roofs of houses by workers digging through mud and sand.

State officials said on Monday that nearly 300,000 people had been evacuated and that thousands more were being housed in relief camps. Since the beginning of the monsoon season last month, there have been more than 250 deaths in the state as a result of the rains.

Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra’s top official, said on Twitter that his helicopter could not land because of “low visibility” as he tried to visit flood-affected areas in the district of Satara.

The Indian Meteorological Department predicts “fairly widespread to widespread rainfall” across the country over the next two days, particularly in the northern, eastern, and western regions.

At least 100 people were still stranded after a landslide on a mountain slope in Himachal Pradesh, about 1,000 miles north of Maharashtra, according to officials on Monday. Rescue efforts were still underway in the state, which is about 1,000 miles north of Maharashtra.

Video footage showed heavy rocks knocking down a metal bridge. Several vehicles were pounded by the boulders, which then fell into a nearby river, causing massive splashes and sounds similar to exploding bombs.

“The accident caused by landslide in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, is very sad,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. “My heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.”

Mr. Modi announced that the families of those who died would receive compensation in the amount of 200,000 rupees, or more than $2,500.


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