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Sinking earth forces hundreds to leave Indian temple town

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LUCKNOW, India (AP) – Authorities in an Indian Himalayan city halted construction activities and began moving hundreds of people into temporary shelters after a temple collapsed and cracks appeared in more than 600 homes due to subsided land, they said. authorities on Saturday.

Residents of the town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand state say they have started to notice cracks in houses, especially after the 2021 floods in the region. No injuries were reported from the temple’s collapse on Friday and those living nearby had left the area a day earlier.

Himanshu Khurana, a district administrator, said more than 60 families had been transferred to government relief camps. The number is likely to rise to 600 families, according to media reports.

Television images also showed cracks in the roads, making it difficult for vehicles to circulate.

Ranjit Sinha, a senior disaster management official in the state, said the immediate cause of the cracks “appears to be the faulty drainage system, which resulted in water seeping under the houses which led to their subsidence”.

The government will pay 4,000 rupees ($50) a month for six months to the displaced in Joshimath, a temple town of about 25,000 people that sits at an altitude of 1,890 meters (6,200 feet) and drops over top Hindu pilgrims. , as well as trekking circuits, said Khurana.

Tens of thousands of devotees heading to Badrinath and Him Kund Sahib, important Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage sites, pass through Joshimath, 490 kilometers (305 miles) northeast of New Delhi. The huge flow of pilgrims and tourists has caused the city to expand exponentially over the years with the massive construction of buildings and roads, which some experts have associated with the subsidence of the ground.

Construction activities that have been temporarily halted include the Chardham all-weather road – a major federal government undertaking to connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites, a project to install rope-pulled trams to transport pilgrims and tourists in nearby Auli, and hydroelectric power plants.

The region has witnessed devastating rain – an extreme amount of rain in a short period of time – that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in 2013, as well as severe flooding in 2021. Experts say the rapid shrinking of glaciers, in part due to the shift weather, is also another reason why the region is hit by repeated disasters.

“Between 2015 and mid-2021, at least 7,750 extreme rainfall and shower occurrences have been recorded in Uttarakhand. These cases are detrimental to Joshimath as they may increase the number of buildings impacted, eventually exacerbating the vulnerability of local inhabitants,” said Kavita Upadhyay, a water policy expert who is currently a research associate in the Riverine Rights project at Oslo Metropolitan University.

Upadhyay, who is from Uttarakhand and lives in the region, said uninterrupted large-scale infrastructure projects, as well as uncontrolled tourist influx, also contributed to the land sinking.

“The slopes of Joshimath are formed by debris from landslides. This means that there is a limit to which the city can be overwhelmed by buildings or disturbed by activities such as the construction of large infrastructure projects such as dams and roads.”

A study by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority warned that construction by removing rocks and blasting the hillside would lead to severe environmental damage.

In May last year, Meera Rawat, a resident, was startled while cooking in the kitchen when she heard a gurgling sound of water flowing under the floor.

“On that day, I realized that something bad was going to happen in our town of Joshimath. In September I saw a small crack in the ground. In December, it increased and we vacated the house”, said Meera.

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Associated Press writer Sibi Arasu in Bengaluru, India contributed to this report.

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