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Tibet lake vigil amid deadly cloudburst

Aug. 13: India’s disaster management machinery remained on high alert as satellite imagery showed signs of a temporary lake in Tibet expanding on a day that villagers threatened by floods if the dam burst were swamped instead by a cloudburst.

An official in the home ministry’s crisis management group said the lake — formed by the blockage of Tibet’s Pare Chu river, a tributary of the Sutlej, last month — now covered 193 hectares, up five from Monday.

A home ministry official added that a four-member technical team had been constituted to give inputs on the lake’s parameters, the probability of a dam-burst and the expected dimension of the tidal wave after a dam-burst.

However, water levels have not risen at the monitoring points of Sumdoh, Khaab, Pawari and Rampur in Himachal Pradesh. The entire stretch from Sumdoh in Kinnaur district to Kol dam in Rampur has been on alert from August 2.

Ironically, panic-stricken residents of Rampur, who had been on tenterhooks since news emerged that flash floods could engulf parts of Himachal if the dam burst, were today swamped by a cloudburst that claimed two lives and added to their anxiety.

The cloudburst, which occurred around 6 am, swept away two people in Jagatkhana village just across the Sutlej from Rampur. A 60-year-old labourer Sher Singh, who hails from Punjab’s Ropar district, and a Nepalese labourer, Prem Bahadur, 28, were swept away. Six people were injured and 45 evacuated.

Jagatkhana suffered the most damage in August 2000 when a surge flood in the Pare Chu washed away 100 people.

Elsewhere, India and China kept the communication links open as people in over 60 villages on the banks of the Sutlej and the Spiti remained tense fearing flash floods. “The two sides are in touch and they are monitoring the developments,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

In the wake of water overflowing the artificial dam since yesterday, the army, air force helicopters and state agencies were put on high alert with the situation being described as “potentially serious”.

Once the dam bursts, the water would take about 45 minutes to cover the 30 km to the India-Tibet border. The first village along the Sutlej would be another 20 minutes away and the last one in Rampur four hours away. The villages have already been evacuated.

A Central Water Commission assessment for crisis managers had said a 30-ft high wave could swamp the Sutlej in lower Himachal, even some 250-km away from the India-Tibet border.

The technical team comprises water commission chief engineer S.K. Agarwal, deputy surveyor-general C.B. Singh, National Remote Sensing Agency scientist V. Bhanu Murthy and Geological Survey of India’s senior geologist Y.P. Sharda.

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