23 Indian Army personnel missing in North Sikkim flash floods, as dam water flows into Teesta river

A sudden downpour and dam water release have caused a sharp rise in the Teesta river level today, and the resulting flash floods in North Sikkim appear to have swept away 23 Indian Army personnel, army camps and vehicles.

The cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim and water release from the Chungthang dam made the Teesta water level rise suddenly by 15-20 feet, with disastrous consequences for downstream areas in Lachen valley.

The flash floods started around 1.30 am, according to defence officials. The rise in the river water level affected army vehicles parked at Bardang near Singtam, said defence spokesperson Lt Col Mahendra Rawat. He said that 23 army personnel were reported missing and 41 vehicles were submerged, adding that search operations were underway.

Rescue operations had been launched by the Border Road Organisation (BRO) and at least 80 local people had been safely evacuated, said defence officials.

A steel bridge at Singtam, also known as Indreni bridge, in Gangtok district has been completely washed away by the Teesta river water early today. This 120-metre-cable suspension bridge is a very important link over the Teesta river.

“All the affected people of Singtam town have been taken to safe places and residents of Dikchu village along the river belt have been evacuated to a nearby school,” said a Sikkim government official.

Sikkim Chief Minister PS Tamang visited Singtam to assess the damage caused by the flash floods, said the official.