In 2013, the state of Uttarakhand in northern India witnessed one of the biggest natural disasters in independent India’s history when heavy rains and flash floods resulted in the destruction of thousands of lives and property.According to experts, the disaster’s impacts were exacerbated by unabated illegal construction on river floodplains and the government’s relentless pursuit of hydropower projects.Five years since the floods, the state is continuing to push for hydropower projects, which has residents and experts worried.Mongabay-India staff writer Mayank Aggarwal and video editor Kartik Chandramouli traveled to Uttarakhand to see how the state has dealt with the disaster’s aftermath. UTTARAKHAND, India — H.P. Upreti, an ex-serviceman, vividly recalls the day, five years ago, when one of the worst natural disasters struck his hometown of Srinagar in India’s Uttarakhand state. “The water came rushing in. It was everywhere. It’s a scene I will never forget,” he said. Srinagar was one of the worst-hit areas during the devastating June 2013 floods. Low-lying areas of the town, such as Shakti Vihar where Upreti lives, were inundated, and houses were filled with debris from construction projects, rocks, boulders and soil — muck deposited by overflowing rivers. “Nearly the whole colony was underwater,” Upreti told Mongabay-India. “The whole area was filled with muck brought in by floods. All houses were filled with muck and in some cases, the water had completely covered the ground floor of the house. I suffered heavy damage and everything was destroyed.” Upreti said he only received the equivalent of $1,460 in compensation — “and that too after a lot of haggling.” He said he didn’t want to move from the area, so since 2013 he spent more than $20,000 restoring his house. He is now fighting a case for more compensation. More than 1,800 days have passed since the floods that brought widespread tragedy to Uttarakhand. But its scars remain fresh. Floodwaters from the Alaknanda River crash against a Hindu temple in Chamoli district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand on June 18, 2013. Image by AFP/Indian Army via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). The disaster that shook the hill state The rain-driven flooding in Uttarakhand, already a highly vulnerable state, was one of the biggest natural disasters in independent India’s history. An estimated 6,000 people were killed, went missing or were presumed dead. More than 4,000 villages were affected, 9,200 head of cattle and other livestock were lost, and 3,320 houses were completely damaged during the floods. Of the 13 districts in the state, five — Bageshwar, Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi — were the worst hit, according to a report by the New Delhi-based National Institute of Disaster Management. The disaster coincided with the peak tourist and pilgrimage season in the state, which contributed to the high number of casualties and damage. Since then, extensive relief and rehabilitation work has been carried out across the state, but the scars of the tragedy are hard to get past. H.P. Upreti suffered heavy losses due to floods and continues to fight the government for compensation. Experts from both private and government-funded institutions unequivocally agree that the magnitude of the disaster caused by the June 2013 floods was increased manifold by the unabated illegal construction on river floodplains and the government’s relentless pursuit of hydropower projects. Currently, the state plans to develop hundreds of these projects, as it seeks to harness up to 27 gigawatts of power.