A huge operation has been going on since Sunday night to rescue around 39 people trapped inside a tunnel after a glacier burst in Uttarakhand, triggering flash floods that left at least 24 dead. More than 200 people remain missing.
The 12-feet-high and 15-feet-wide tunnel at Tapovan in Chamoli district was blocked with debris, trapping workers of an National Thermal Power Corporation Limited. The tunnel is more than 2.5-km-long with a single entry that bifurcates, an official told NDTV. The authorities also said that it was difficult to tell where the workers were trapped or whether they were all together.
Earthmovers and shovels were used to clear the tunnel, with even locals pitching in to help in the night-long mission to make a pathway inside it. Teams are reportedly on standby with dragon light sets, oxygen cylinders and stretchers to provide immediate help to the rescued.
More than 300 personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and 200 others from the Indian Army and disaster teams are involved in the rescue operation, according to NDTV. “About 100 metres inside the tunnel is cleared and accessible, and it looks like about 100 metres of debris more will have to be cleared,” an unidentified ITBP official said. “This will take a few more hours.”
Will build an elaborate plan to avert future potential tragedy: CM
An ITBP officer told The Hindu that out of around 20 bodies recovered, only two had been identified. Among those missing are 172 NTPC officials and 12 villagers.
On Sunday evening, around 12 workers were saved from a smaller tunnel in the same area as the Tapovan tunnel.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, who reached the site to review the rescue operation, said that a comprehensive analysis of the whole episode was being done to avoid future tragedies, reported PTI.
“A DRDO [Defence Research and Development Organisation] team is already studying the cause of this tragedy and we have also sought the help of ISRO [Indian Space Research Organisation] scientists and experts for the same,” Rawat said. The chief minister said that after the analysis “we will build an elaborate plan to avert any potential tragedy going forward”.
Rawat said that arrangements were made for the rescue and relief operations along with medical facilities for those affected. “Most importantly, we are working on re-establishing connectivity to the affected villages,” he added.
The Uttarakhand chief minister said that while the extent of the economic loss will be established, the main priority was to save as many lives as possible. He said that it was also important to rehabilitate those who were displaced.
Multiple agencies are working to look for survivors trapped a day after massive flooding in the state. Rawat said that the teams were a combination of the Centre and the state’s disaster relief agencies along with defence forces who are leading the rescue mission.
Rawat added that the state’s director general of police has been camping in the affected spots since Sunday, while the Garhwal commissioner and the deputy inspector general of police have also been instructed to be stationed there.
“The entire team of the district administration has been engaged in the relief and rescue operations in the area since Sunday,” he told PTI. “Officers from other districts have also been sent on the spot so that the post-mortem of the dead bodies found can be done on priority.”
The chief minister said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been in constant contact, and announced financial aid of Rs 2 lakh each to the dependents of those killed in the disaster.
Due to the disaster, the Rishiganga Power Project was completely swept away, while the Tapovan power plant was also damaged. A team of scientists on Monday left for Joshimath to ascertain the exact cause of the glacier break, which experts said appears to be a result of climate change and increasing intervention of human activities in the ecologically sensitive area.