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Glacier breaks in India's north, leaving several dead and dozens missing

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This photograph provided by Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) shows ITBP personnel after a portion of Nanda Devi glacier broke off, Uttarakhand, India, February 7, 2021.
This photograph provided by Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) shows ITBP personnel after a portion of Nanda Devi glacier broke off, Uttarakhand, India, February 7, 2021.   -   Copyright  Indo Tibetan Border Police via AP
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Indian authorities launched a search operation Sunday after part of a mountain glacier broke, sending a massive flood of water and debris slamming into two dams and damaging a number of homes. At least nine people were killed and 140 were missing.

The flood was caused when a portion of Nanda Devi glacier broke off in the Tapovan area of the northern state of Uttarakhand on Sunday morning. A video shared by officials and taken from the side of steep hillside shows a wall of water surging into one of the dams and breaking it into pieces with little resistance before continuing to roar downstream.

The Rishiganga hydropower plant on the Alaknanda River was destroyed, while the Dhauliganga hydropower plant on the Dhauliganga River was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for paramilitary Indo Tibetan Border Police. Flowing from the Himalayan mountains, both rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.

Pandey said all 12 workers trapped inside a tunnel at the Dhauliganga project were rescued and provided first aid. Earlier, he said 16 were people were trapped there.

Another 140 workers at the two plants were missing, Pandey said.

Surjeet Singh, a police official, said nine bodies were recovered so far amid intensified rescue operations.

Ravi Bejaria, a government spokesman, said some houses were also damaged in the flooding.

Officials said when the glacier broke it sent water trapped behind it as well as mud and other debris surging down the mountain and into other bodies of water. Many villages were evacuated as authorities issued an advisory urging people living on the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers to move to safer places immediately.

Authorities emptied two dams farther down the river to stop the flood waters from reaching towns of Haridwar and Rishikesh, where popular tourist spots on the banks of the Ganges River were shut and all boating activities were stopped.

“We heard that a glacier had broken and people feared water levels would rise,” said Prince Chawla, a boat owner in Rishikesh. "But as of now, the water level hasn’t really risen too much here.”

Uttarakhand police chief Ashok Kumar said officials immediately alerted residents living in the area and evacuated them to safer places.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet said he was “constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation.” He added: “India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there.”

In 2013, thousands of people were killed in Uttarakhand after heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, washing away thousands of houses and roads and cutting communication links in many parts of the state.