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Shifting soil causes buildings to crack in India, authorities begin evacuation

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Indian authorities have evacuated hundreds of people from their homes in the Himalayan town of Joshimath in northern Uttarakhand state after buildings in the area popular with pilgrims and tourists developed cracks due to shifting soil.

According to a report, officials belonging to the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and border security forces have been rushed to Joshimath, a town of approximately 25,000 people, to assess the situation and help with the evacuation.

Cracks have been reported in more than 600 houses in Joshimath.

This situation prompted authorities to move residents to safer locations, including hotels and guesthouses, government official Himanshu Khurana said.

“The evacuation process is under way and a team of scientists from different institutes have been trying to know the cause and how to contain the situation,” said Khurana, the district magistrate of Chamoli district, where Joshimath is located.

The town, about 490km (305 miles) northeast of federal capital New Delhi, also hosts a major Indian army base and a strategic road to the disputed border with China that has also reportedly developed wide cracks.

The cause of the apparent subsidence was unclear. Residents blame the building of a major road to improve access to religious sites and the Chinese border area, as well as the building of tunnels for a nearby hydroelectric project.

Officials have temporarily halted the construction of Char Dham all-weather road, a flagship enterprise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites, as well as a project to set up trolleys pulled by ropes to carry pilgrims and tourists in nearby Auli town and .

Many locals, who have been forced to sleep out in the freezing cold, said they had been warning authorities for weeks and in some cases months about cracks in buildings and roads, some of which were oozing brown muddy water.

Ranjit Sinha, a top state disaster management official, said the immediate cause of the cracks “seems to be the faulty drainage system, which has resulted in water seepage under the houses that has led to their sinking”.

Officials said the government will pay 4,000 rupees ($50) per month for six months to those rendered homeless.

About 1,890 metres (6,200 feet) above sea level, Joshimath is a gateway to Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib, key Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas, attracting tens of thousands of devotees every year.

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