NEW DELHI — The Indian authorities were scrambling to evacuate villages and save lives on Sunday after a Himalayan glacier broke and caused sudden, massive flooding in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, said three bodies had been recovered and that 150 people, many of them workers at a hydroelectric dam project that was largely swept away, were unaccounted for.
“An avalanche came and completely broke the Rishiganga power project, and almost all the workers there are missing,” said Ashok Kumar, the chief of police in Uttarakhand. “By the time the water came downstream, we had alerted people.”
The district of Chamoli in Uttarakhand appeared to have been hit hardest by the surging Dhauliganga River. Amit Shah, India’s home minister, said teams from the country’s disaster response force had been airlifted in. Hundreds of soldiers and members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police were also arriving at the scene, other officials said.
Unconfirmed videos on social media showed violent surges of water heading down mountain gorges, washing away bridges and what looked like hydroelectric structures.
The scenes were reminiscent of deadly floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, when heavy rain over several days led to landslides that killed thousands of people and washed away entire villages.
Late Sunday afternoon, Trivendra Singh Rawat, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, who had visited Chamoli, posted a video on Twitter that indicated the flow of water had slowed. He expressed hope that some of the missing people could be rescued.
“The possibility of flooding is very less,” he said. “Our special focus is on rescuing the workers trapped in the tunnels.”
Scientists have warned that climate change is melting the Himalayan glaciers at an alarming pace. The glaciers, which supply water to a vast number of people, could be mostly gone by the end of the century, a recent study found.