Thousands feared dead after Indian monsoon causes extreme damage

Local residents wade waist-high through the flood water that entered a marketplace area close to Yamuna river, in New Delhi, India on 20 June 2013. (EPA/MONEY SHARMA)

Local residents wade waist-high through the flood water that entered a marketplace area close to Yamuna river, in New Delhi, India on 20 June 2013. (EPA/MONEY SHARMA)

Thousands of people may be dead after flash flooding and mudslides from Indian’s monsoon, which has settled in earlier and with greater intensity than usual.

It is the deadliest global weather event so far in 2013.

The rains responsible for the deadly and destructive flooding arrived in the early to middle part of June and another round is forecast this week.

In the wake of the last round, officials say that thousands of people are still stranded in mountainous portions of the country, and search and rescue missions have been called off in multiple locations.

The death toll is expected to climb to somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 as rescuers will begin searching for bodies among the rubble and mud-covered regions.  Eight people were killed in a recovery effort Tuesday when a helicopter crashed.

More than 80,000 Indians have been evacuated from flooded areas since June 16.

The Indian state of Uttarakhand was hit particularly hard, where 680 bodies have been recovered.  Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya told reporters that bodies stuck under debris from the mudslides have not yet been recovered, which will increase the death toll significantly in the area.

Indian residents and travellers walk past vehicles stranded by silt deposited by floodwaters in Chamoli district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand on June 18, 2013. (AFP/Getty images)

Indian residents and travellers walk past vehicles stranded by silt deposited by floodwaters in Chamoli district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand on June 18, 2013. (AFP/Getty images)

While the official death toll in the region stands at 680, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said, “Very heavy casualties are feared and I cannot give the exact number without a proper survey.”

Most of the emphasis has been placed on rescuing those who are stranded, as the forecast calls for heavy rainfall to begin again, strongly hampering the rescues efforts.

The Kedarnath temple area, one of the holiest regions in India, was a focal rescue point with 27,000 trapped people being rescued.  The temple did not sustain major damage, but many bodies could be seen scattered across the grounds.

One man clung to the temple’s main bell for over nine hours, according to New Delhi Television.

“He stood hanging from the temple bell from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., the day after the disaster struck. He stood on corpses to balance himself. His clothes had been torn to pieces by the water’s fury,” his brother-in-law, Ganga Singh Bhandari told the Press Trust of India.

Local authorities and religious figures have a process of mass cremation for the large amounts of recovered bodies, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has offered 200,000 rupees ($3,400) for families who lost loved ones.

Behind the monsoon

Climate scientists call the Indian monsoon one of the most intense weather events in the world.  The rainfall can provide nearly 90 percent of the year’s total, but it also helps farmers grow crops to feed nearly a billion people.

Satellite image from June 11, 2013 shows a monsoon storm that formed over Uttarakhand State in northwest India. (NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory)

Satellite image from June 11, 2013 shows a monsoon storm that formed over Uttarakhand State in northwest India. (NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory)

Being one of the strongest monsoon systems, the Indian monsoon occurs when the winds shift from a northeast land breeze during the cooler months, to the southwesterly sea breeze during the warmest months.  The shift in winds is due to the land temperature becoming warmer than the sea temperature, causing a shallow low pressure system to form, and reversing the winds to a counter-clockwise flow.

The southwest winds usher copious amounts of rainfall to the region during the warmest months of June and July, but the rainy weather is often accompanied by followed by periods of hot, dry weather scattered throughout the months.

Rainfall forecast over the next 5 days from the GFS model over India (WeatherBell.com)

Rainfall forecast over the next 5 days from the GFS model over India (WeatherBell.com)

The GFS model forecasts increased rainfall over the next week to areas such as Uttarakhand, which have been already hit hard.

The author, Adam Rainear, is a Capital Weather Gang summer intern

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