At least 46 people have died and 11 remain missing in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand after the worst rainfall in more than 100 years triggered flash flooding and landslides.
Record-breaking rainfall caused by cloudbursts, an intense deluge of rain, over Uttarakhand’s picturesque Kumaon region led to flooding that washed away homes and vehicles. One district in the Nainital area received 340mm (13.4in) of rainfall over 24 hours on Tuesday, the highest registered since a weather station was set up there in 1897.
The army and the national defence force were dispatched to the Himalayan state to help with the rescue efforts, after Nainital’s famous lake overflowed, causing flash flooding and cutting off the area entirely, leaving residents and tourists stranded. So far 46 people have been found dead and 12 injured. Dozens of trekkers hiking in the mountains have had to be rescued.
Several people died after being caught in mud landslides in the hilly areas of the mountainous state, while many districts remained cut off after roads were blocked with mud and debris. The Ganges also burst its banks in the holy city of Rishikesh.
The river flooding also affected the periphery of Jim Corbett national park, which is home to tigers and elephants. A video that went viral showed a distressed elephant stranded on a small island in the middle of the overflowing Gaula river. According to wildlife park officials, the elephant managed to successfully swim to safety through the fast-flowing waters.
Heavy rain in October is highly unusual, as the monsoons have already departed India. The extreme weather this week was caused by an unusual disturbance which originated in the Mediterranean and then slammed into the Himalayan mountains, triggering heavy rain spells and cloudbursts.
So far in October, Uttarakhand has received 485% more rain than average, according to India Meteorological Department data.
The extreme weather has been attributed to the climate crisis. Uttarakhand has experienced a sharp increase in heavy rainfall events and cloudbursts, reporting more than 7,750 since 2015.
However, experts say intense development of the mountain region, including the construction of dams and roads in the fragile Himalayas, often encroaching on rivers, is destabilising the area, making it more prone to extreme weather events. Glacial melting has also become increasingly dangerous in Uttarakhand. In February, hundreds died after flash floods, caused by a hanging glacier that crashed through two vast hydropower dams in a river valley.
Population growth, which has led to houses being built in hilly areas and forests cut down across the state, has also been blamed for exacerbating landslides when heavy rains fall.
Uttarakhand was not the only Indian state affected by heavy rainfall. The extreme weather also devastated the hilly regions of Darjeeling and Kalimpong in West Bengal and neighbouring Sikkim, triggering landslides, stranding hundreds of tourists and leaving at least three dead.
The southern state of Kerala also experienced devastating rainfall and flooding this week, which killed at least 26 people, including five children, and washed away hundreds of homes. Kerala received 135% more rainfall this month than average, and several major dams had to be opened to stop them overflowing.