Fears heighten as satellite images show Joshimath sinking, authorities toil to raze 'unsafe' hotel

Twenty-five more families were evacuated from subsidence-hit houses, taking the total number of such families to 185, according to the District Disaster Management Authority, Chamoli

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Concerns over land subsidence in Joshimath mounted on Friday as satellite images released by ISRO showed the Himalayan town sank 5.4 cm in 12 days while efforts to pull down an "unsafe" hotel that has developed cracks were in full swing.

Twenty-five more families were evacuated from subsidence-hit houses, taking the total number of such families to 185, according to the District Disaster Management Authority, Chamoli.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the government's biggest priority is to provide quick relief to the affected people and evacuate them to safety.

He chaired a cabinet meeting during which a slew of decisions, including a six-month waiver of water and electricity bills and a one-year moratorium on recovery of bank loans, were taken to provide succour to the affected people.

The Indian Space Research Organisation released satellite images of Joshimath showing that it sank 5.4 cm between December 27, 2022 and January 8, 2023, triggered by a possible subsidence event on January 2.

The preliminary study by ISRO's National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) said the land subsidence was slow between April and November 2022, when Joshimath sank 8.9 cm.

The report said a subsidence zone resembling a generic landslide shape was identified tapered top and fanning out at the base. It noted that the crown of the subsidence was located near Joshimath-Auli road at a height of 2,180 metres.

Police personnel were deployed in large numbers around Malari Inn hotel, which has developed large cracks and is tilting precariously towards adjacent Mount View hotel, as the demolition operation was underway.

The demolition is being carried out under the technical supervision of the Roorkee-based Central Building Research Institute, according to officials.

Both Malari Inn and Mount View have been declared "unsafe". Mount View will be pulled down next.

Twenty-five more families were shifted to temporary relief camps, the District Disaster Management Authority said, adding that so far 185 families have been shifted to safe locations in the town.

The number of houses that have developed cracks stands at 760, out of which 147 have been marked unsafe, it said.

Chief Minister Dhami said here that his government is moving step by step to address the issues of subsidence-hit Joshimath in Chamoli district.

"Our biggest priority now is to provide quick relief to the affected people and to evacuate them to safety," he said.

"The affected families are being shifted to safer places. The demarcation of the affected buildings is going on continuously. Teams of geologists and experts are engaged in investigating the causes of land subsidence in the town," he added.

The Uttarakhand government decided to waive for six months electricity and water bills of subsidence-hit families and individuals and put on hold repayment of loans owed by them for a year.

It also decided to conduct a study on the carrying capacity of all towns located in the hills.

The cabinet gave in-principle approval to the construction of prefabricated houses for short-term rehabilitation of the affected people of Joshimath at identified locations in Koti Farm, Pipalkoti, Gauchar, Gaukh Selang and Dhak villages after their survey.

It also decided to increase from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 per month the amount being given by the state government to the affected families for payment of rent. It also authorised the chief minister to increase it further on the recommendation of the district magistrate.

Every affected family staying in temporary relief camps set up in hotels and residential units will be paid Rs 950 per room per day for their accommodation besides Rs 450 per head per day.

Two adult members of the families whose means of livelihood have been affected due to the calamity will get wages fixed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

Interim assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh has been distributed to 42 affected families so far, Chamoli District Magistrate Himanshu Khurana said.

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