Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Volcanic-like activity triggers scare in Lahaul-Spiti

mysterious explosion atop a mountain has sent a major scare across Rangrik village in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.

With the phenomenon, said to resemble a volcanic eruption, triggering massive landslides and waters to gush continuously, edgy villagers are reportedly left with no option but to trek uphill on Sunday to find a way of stemming the problem rather than wait for the district administration and scientists to heed their cry for help. With 120 houses and 700 villagers, Rangrik is 4,000 meter above sea level and 7 km away from main Kaza town. Fearing a tragedy might strike anytime without timely intervention, village headman Tandup Tashi told TOI, "We have already informed the district administration but nothing has been done so far, except for the assurance that Geological Survey of India has been informed. We can’t keep waiting for officials to come and inspect the site, so we have decided to climb the mountain on Sunday to check what actually happened and what can be done." Banking on a pair of binoculars to assess the situation soon after the "explosion" on July 27, Tashi added, "We saw that a ditch had been created from where water was gushing down. If steps are not taken to check the flow, the situation may become dangerous." But brushing aside fears of villagers, geologists said that in India, sporadic volcanic activity took place only on Barrel islands in Andaman and Nicobar. Pardeep Singh, senior GSI geologist added, "There can be several reasons for such a mountain explosion, including presence of hydro-thermal gases and sulphur. But reasons and factors will be known only after visiting the site." Trying to maintain calm, Chhering, who runs a private school here, "Initially, it looked like some volcano activity because there was smoke-like dust all around the mountain top, followed by bright sparks caused by rolling boulders colliding with one another." However, not ruling out danger to the village and 2-MW Rongtong hydel project nearby, Dr SS Samant, incharge-scientist, GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, said, "There is a risk to the village andproject if the landslides and flow of water are not stopped. It’s important to understand reasons behind the phenomenon."

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