Was the Uttarkashi avalanche triggered by an earthquake a couple days earlier? A 2.5 magnitude earthquake jolted the region on October 2. Just two days before the deadly avalanche hit the group from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) at Draupadi ka Danda. Sixteen bodies were recovered by Thursday afternoon, fifteen were still reported missing.
The earthquake epicenter was not far from the Uttarkashi avalanche site. Experienced mountaineers as well as locals are now speculating that the earthquake may have triggered the avalanche.
According to National Center of Seismology the earthquake happened at around 10:43 am on October 2 with its epicentre in Bhatwari tehsil, Uttarkashi district. Significantly, the 25-km trek to Mount Draupadi ka Dana also lies in Bhatwari tehsil.
“Sometimes, even small tremors can cause cracks in the glaciers and the upper layer of snow could dislodge immediately after a small amount of pressure is exerted on it. In the past, we have seen earthquake-triggered-avalanches like the 2015 avalanche around the Mt Everest base camp,” said Love Raj Dharmshaktu, who has scaled Everest seven times.
The SE part of Uttarkashi district, including Bhatwari, falls under either zone IV or zone V of the seismic zone map. Senior geologist and executive director of Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority, Piyoosh Rautela, said that earthquakes do trigger avalanches and landslides.
He added: “A detailed investigation is needed to ascertain whether the October 2 quake, which was of low intensity, triggered the Uttarkashi avalanche on October 4.” Jayendra Rana, president of Uttarkashi trekking and mountaineering association, said, “Draupadi ka Danda is a safe peak and we have never heard of any major avalanche there. The October 4 incident occurred just two days after the quake. I think this angle should be explored.”