Rescue teams in Uttarakhand on Saturday began widening a hole drilled into a tunnel at the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydroelectric plant, where more than three dozen workers have been trapped after the massive flood last week, reported PTI. Rescuers used excavators and shovels to clear sludge from the tunnel in an attempt to reach the workers as hopes for their survival faded.

The disaster was set off when part of a glacier broke off on February 7, unleashing flash floods that left at least 38 people dead and 166 missing. Deputy Inspector General of Police Nilesh Anand Bharne said 11 bodies had been identified. Eighteen body parts were recovered from the flood-hit areas, of which 10 were cremated after collecting DNA samples, he said.

“We are working under a three-pronged strategy to reach those trapped in the tunnel,” General Manager of the NTPC project, RP Ahirwal, told PTI. “The hole we drilled yesterday [Friday] is being widened to one feet so as to reach a camera and a pipe inside the silt flushing tunnel where the trapped are said to be located.”

Ahirwal said a hole with a diameter of one feet will help in sending the camera to ascertain the location of the workers. The hole will also be used to insert a pipe to flush out accumulated water from the tunnel, the official added.

There are two other phases to the rescue strategy. The first is clearing the desilting basin of the NTPC barrage, through which muck is constantly flowing into the tunnels. The other one will be to restore the flow of the Dhauliganga to the right, which had tilted to the left after the flash flood, and is hampering the sludge clearing operation, the NTPC official said, according to PTI.

“The rescue personnel are going to the tunnel where the men are likely to be trapped but muck is constantly coming down from the NTPC barrage and is desilting the basin to hamper the rescue efforts,” Ahirwal told the news agency. “The water of Dhauliganga too is coming into our tunnels through the desilting basin as it has tilted to the left after the avalanche. Hence, restoring the flow of the Dhauliganga to the right is a big part of our strategy.”

On the possibility of whether an attempt could be made to send rescue personnel inside the tunnel through the hole, Ahirwal said they will have to further widen it, adding that it will be done “if the need arises”.

The NTPC official said more than 100 of the company’s scientists were devising strategies to rescue the workers. However, citing the conditions inside the tunnel, he said: “We can operate only with a few machines at a time. Rest of them have to be kept on standby because our strategy is to keep the operations under way round-the-clock.”

If for some reason, an equipment stops working, there are alternatives on the standby to ensure that the operations do not stop, the NTPC official added.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has approved Rs 2.38 crore for the relocation of five villages out of over 385 situated in disaster-prone belts of 12 districts of the state, reported Times of India on Friday. As per a study carried out by the state, the entire process may cost Rs 10,000 crore, according to the newspaper.

The orders were issued on Thursday for the relocation of five villages in the districts of Tehri, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Bageshwar. The funds were allotted for house construction, a “gaushala” and also a relocation allowance.