Sikkim, a small Himalayan state in northeast India, witnessed a devastating flash flood on October 4, 2023, that left 23 army personnel missing, camps and vehicles submerged, and roads washed away. The flash flood was triggered by a sudden cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim, which caused a massive surge of water in the Teesta River in Lachen Valley. The situation was worsened by the release of water from the Chungthang Dam, which increased the water level up to 15-20 feet high downstream. The flash flood started around 1:30 am and affected several army establishments along the valley. Rescue operations are underway and Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang has taken stock of the situation.
Table of Contents
What is a Cloudburst and How Does It Cause Flash Floods?
A cloudburst is a sudden and intense rainfall that lasts for a short duration and covers a small area. It occurs when warm and moist air rises rapidly and condenses into clouds that become saturated with water droplets. When these clouds encounter strong winds or mountains, they release their water content in a burst, creating a downpour of rain.
A flash flood is a rapid and extreme flow of water that occurs due to heavy rainfall, snowmelt, glacial lake outburst, or dam failure. It can happen within minutes or hours of the triggering event and can sweep away everything in its path. Flash floods are more common in hilly and mountainous regions, where the terrain is steep and the drainage is poor.
Why is the Sikkim Flash Flood Significant?
The Sikkim flash flood is significant for several reasons:
- It has affected the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in the region, especially the army personnel who are stationed there for border security and disaster relief.
- It has damaged the infrastructure and environment of the region, including roads, bridges, buildings, power lines, communication networks, crops, forests, and wildlife habitats.
- It has highlighted the vulnerability of the region to climate change and natural disasters, which are becoming more frequent and severe due to global warming, deforestation, urbanization, and population growth.
- It has raised questions about the safety and sustainability of the hydropower projects in the region, which are often blamed for altering the natural flow of rivers and increasing the risk of floods and landslides.
How to Stay Safe During Flash Floods?
Flash floods are unpredictable and dangerous events that can occur anywhere and anytime. Therefore, it is important to be prepared and alert for such situations. Here are some tips on how to stay safe during flash floods:
- Before a flash flood:
- Know your area’s flood risk and history. Check the weather forecast regularly and heed any warnings or alerts issued by the authorities.
- Make an emergency plan with your family and friends. Identify a safe place to go in case of evacuation. Keep a kit of essential items such as food, water, medicine, flashlight, radio, phone, etc.
- Protect your property from flood damage. Elevate or move your valuables to higher ground. Seal any cracks or openings in your walls or floors. Install check valves or sump pumps to prevent water from backing up into your drains or pipes.
- During a flash flood:
- Do not attempt to cross or drive through flooded areas. Even six inches of fast-moving water can knock you off your feet or sweep away your vehicle.
- Move to higher ground as soon as possible. Avoid low-lying areas such as valleys, canyons, or basins that can fill up quickly with water.
- Stay away from power lines, electrical equipment, or anything that can conduct electricity. Water and electricity can be a deadly combination.
- Listen to local media or authorities for updates and instructions. Follow their advice on whether to stay put or evacuate.
- After a flash flood:
- Do not return to your home or property until it is declared safe by the authorities. There may be hidden dangers such as debris, contamination, structural damage, or live wires.
- Clean and disinfect everything that came in contact with floodwater. Floodwater may contain harmful bacteria, viruses, chemicals, or sewage that can cause infections or diseases.
- Seek medical attention if you have any injuries or symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, vomiting, etc. Report any missing or dead people or animals to the authorities.
- Seek emotional support if you have experienced trauma or stress due to the flash flood. Talk to your family, friends, counselors, or helplines.
Q: What is the difference between a cloudburst and a thunderstorm?
A: A cloudburst is a type of thunderstorm that produces very heavy rainfall in a short duration and a small area. A thunderstorm is a general term for a storm that produces thunder, lightning, rain, hail, or wind.
Q: How can I help the victims of the Sikkim flash flood?
A: You can help the victims of the Sikkim flash flood by donating money, goods, or services to the relief agencies or organizations that are working on the ground. You can also volunteer your time and skills to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts. You can also spread awareness and information about the situation and the ways to help.
Q: How can I prevent flash floods from happening in the future?
A: You cannot prevent flash floods from happening, but you can reduce their impact and frequency by taking some measures such as:
- Conserving water and energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.
- Planting trees and vegetation to prevent soil erosion and improve water absorption and retention.
- Building and maintaining dams, levees, or barriers to control the flow of water and divert it away from vulnerable areas.
- Implementing land use and zoning policies to limit development and construction in flood-prone areas.