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Lake expands, China flashes warning

Chandigarh, Aug. 11: China today asked India to prepare for “disaster prevention” amid heightened concerns set off by satellite images showing expansion of the temporary lake in Tibet which threatened to burst and trigger flash floods in Himachal Pradesh.

“We have conveyed various information collected to the Indian side in time and reminded them to make preparations for disaster prevention,” Chinese embassy spokesperson Yang Shuying said.

She said the increase in rainfall and water flow from the upper reaches would result in a continuous rise in water level and the dam, created by the landslide late last month, could burst “anytime”.

According to data available from satellite images provided by the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency, the lake expanded to 188 hectares from 150 hectares and acquired a tail, causing concern for the Himachal administration as it could breach the dam.

The depth of the lake, formed by the blockage of the Pare Chu river in Tibet, could be about 60 metres, which means a discharge of 140 million cubic metres of water if the dam bursts.

Earlier, officials had said the Nathpa-Jhakri hydel project in Himachal could resume power production from tomorrow as the water level in the Sutlej continued to remain normal.

The Pare Chu is a tributary of the Sutlej and the lake formed behind the landslide is about 30 km from the border.

“Two units are expected to begin functioning tomorrow. But the decision has not been taken yet although there is talk on power resumption. All precaution and safety measures will be put in place before the units are switched on,” an engineer said.

Inquiries suggested that the project could be expected to withstand heavy flow of water even if the dam on the Pare Chu bursts.

“Jhakri is relatively safe. We have built walls and dumped sandbags to ensure that any heavy flow is contained with minimum damage. It is the Rampur (measuring station) downstream where the damage is expected to be enormous,” the engineer said.

Power shortage in Delhi and north India has also brought pressure on authorities in Himachal to restart the turbines.

However, technical experts of the Central Water Commission and the Union water resources ministry advise against switching on the units. “If the dam bursts, it will take barely four hours for the surge flood to reach Nathpa Jhakri,” a source said.

The Rs 8,600-crore, 1,500 MW project is about 250 km from the Tibet border.

Information that the lake had still not overflowed continued to pour into the office of the crisis management team today. Officials described the news as “good”.

“The lake is still almost the same size. There has been no expansion,” said Major General R.S. Gill of the Western Command, which is in charge of the border with China.

Indian army and air force helicopters conducted aerial surveys.

Authorities in Himachal have evacuated more than 3,000 people from eight villages on the banks of the Sutlej following fears they could be submerged if the dam bursts. Another 350 villages in the region are under threat.

Eight rafters have so far been sent to Kinnaur, which is closer to the border. The rafters are trained in locating blockages caused by debris along the river’s route. “The debris causes a lot of problems as even a little increase in water flow makes the river more ferocious. The debris also blocks a river’s path, especially at bends,” an official said.

Chief secretary Kanwar Shamsher Singh chaired a meeting of the crisis management committee in Shimla today to review preparedness for any crisis. All arrangements were found satisfactory.

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