The death toll in the Nanda Devi “glacier burst” in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district went up to 26 on Monday, even as operations continued for the second day to rescue about 35 labourers trapped inside the 2.5-km-long Tapovan hydel project tunnel filled with slush and debris. A total of 171 persons, including trapped workers, still remain missing.
Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, who reached Joshimath in the evening to take stock of the situation, said a joint team had entered 130 metres into the tunnel by around 7 p.m. and might take another two to three hours to reach the T-point.
Earlier, Union Power Minister R.K. Singh had inspected the tunnel.
“There is a turning point at 180 metres where we hope to find the trapped workers, as briefed by the NTPC officials. However, removing the slush is proving to be a time-consuming exercise as only one JCB can enter and exit at a time. We may explore other options to create access routes to the point where labourers are suspected to be stranded,” said a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) official deployed there.
After personnel from the Army and the Engineer Task Force opened the mouth of the tunnel in the morning, a team comprising personnel from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the NDRF and the State Disaster Response Force started removing the slush using earth movers and excavators.
An ITBP official said the rescue team had gone into the tunnel with victim-locating cameras and sniffer dogs to check for survivors. “The debris could not be cleared... two excavators were deployed to clear the slush,” the official stated.
According to the Uttarakhand police, 202 persons were reported missing hours after the disaster struck. Among them, 21 were from one Ritvik company, 100 others associated with it, 46 of Rishi Ganga company, 21 worked for Om Metal and three for H.C.C. Two each from the Tapovan, Ringi and Karchho villages and five from Raini village were also untraceable.
The missing persons included 12 villagers, 172 staffers of the NTPC project and 46 workers at the Rishi Ganga project, the ITBP official said.
The glacier break-up triggered an avalanche and a flash flood in the Alaknanda river system on Sunday, washing away the Raini bridge and cutting off 13 villages located close to the border with China. The entire Rishi Ganga power project was destroyed, while 46 labourers working at the project site and five villagers were reported missing, Director General of Police Ashok Kumar told the media.
ITBP personnel were roped in to provide relief and food material to the stranded people in nine villages, using helicopters.
Located five kilometres downstream from the main disaster site, the Tapovan power projects of NTPC were also damaged severely. Mr. Kumar said that initially 25 persons working in one small riverbed tunnel were said to be missing. However, 13 of them later reported to the authorities. The others were rescued by an ITBP team following a seven-hour-long operation on Sunday evening.
The Chief Minister stated that ₹20 crore had been released for providing relief to the affected. On Monday, he tweeted: “I reiterate our government's commitment to develop hills of Uttarakhand in a sustainable manner and we will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the achievement of this goal.
A team of the DRDO’s Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment scientists has been flown in to Joshimath for surveillance and reconnaissance. Indian Space Research Organisation scientists are also conducting a comprehensive analysis of the disaster.