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The sinking forces hundreds of people to leave the Indian temple city

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LUCKNOW, India – Authorities in an Indian city in the Himalayas have halted construction activities and started moving hundreds of people to temporary shelters after a temple collapsed and cracks appeared in more of 600 homes due to land subsidence, officials said Saturday.

Residents of Joshimath city in Uttarakhand state say they started noticing cracks in houses, especially after the 2021 floods in the area. No injuries were reported in the temple’s collapse on Friday night and people living nearby had left the area a day earlier.

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

Television footage also showed cracks in the roads, impeding vehicular traffic.

Ranjit Singh, a senior state disaster management official, said the immediate cause of the cracks “appears to be the faulty drainage system, which led to water seepage under the houses which led to their sinking. “.

The government will pay 4,000 rupees ($50) a month for six months to people made homeless in Joshimath, a temple town of about 25,000 people that sits at an altitude of 1,890 meters (6,200 feet) and falls on a key Hindu pilgrim as well as trekking tours, Khurana said.

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

Construction activities that have been temporarily halted include the Chardham All-Weather Road – a flagship Federal Government undertaking to link various Hindu pilgrimage sites, a project to set up rope-drawn wagons to transport pilgrims and tourists near Auli, and hydroelectric plants.

The region witnessed a devastating downpour – extreme rain in a short period of time – which killed hundreds of people in 2013 as well as severe flooding in 2021. Experts say the rapid shrinking of glaciers, in part because of climate change, is also another reason why the region is hit by repeated disasters.

“Between 2015 and mid-2021, at least 7,750 cases of extreme rainfall and downpours were noted in Uttarakhand. Such cases are detrimental to Joshimath as they can increase the number of buildings affected, ultimately exacerbating the vulnerability of people,” 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 relentless large-scale infrastructure projects as well as the uncontrolled influx of tourists have also contributed to land subsidence.

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

A study by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority warned that construction by removing boulders and blasting the hill would cause serious environmental damage.

In May last year, resident Meera Rawat was surprised while cooking in the kitchen when she heard water gurgling under the floor.

“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 widened and we left home,” Meera said.

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

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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