Venudhar Nayak, Commanding Officer of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) who led the rescue operation at the tunnel of the NTPC’s Tapovan hydel project, where 12 workers were rescued after a seven-hour operation on Sunday, said the project was completely washed away , and the few houses that remain undamaged on the site were covered in slush upto 20 feet deep.
Over hundred persons are missing after the flash flood, caused by the splintering of a glacier, washed away two hydel power projects — the Rishiganga small hydro project and National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) Tapovan project on the banks of the Dhauliganga river in north Uttarakhand.
Mr. Nayak, whose team of 250 personnel were the first to reach the Tapovan project said it took them seven hours to unblock the tunnel where 12 persons were struck.
“At least eight persons were able to escape after the flood occurred and before the tunnel was blocked. We reached here at 11.30 a.m. and by 6.30 p.m., we were able to rescue all the 12 persons,” Mr. Nayak told The Hindu over the phone from the accident site. He said the team was now rushing to another tunnel, four kilometres away where 50 people are said to be trapped.
Mr. Nayak’s unit is posted 15 km from Tapovan.
He said as the ITBP was a mountain force, they had all the equipment to carry out the rescue work.
Explaining the ground conditions, he said the two tunnels, where workers were still stuck, are part of the dam structure and used to dispose waste water from the power plant.
“When the gush of water came, around 20 people were working in one tunnel and 50-60 workers in the second tunnel. Eight workers managed to escape from the first tunnel and remaining 12 were rescued by the ITBP team. 12 people could escape from the second tunnel and around 50 are still trapped, here the Army is working and we are on way to help them,” he said.
Mr. Nayak said that of the 12 rescued, three were critical and had been rushed to the ITBP’s hospital nearby.
He said the night could prove to be challenging but they were geared to work through the night.
“We have dragon lights to help us navigate and we also have powerful lights connected to gensets. Phone and electricity connection is working fine. We are glad that we could save lives,” he said.
He added that dredgers were clearing the slush and debris. The service roads built by NTPC had also been washed sway, he added.
Mr. Nayak said the Rishiganga power project uphill that was the first one to be hit due to “glacial burst” was completely washed sway.