A joint rescue team of security personnel on Wednesday (February 10) continued its struggle to penetrate deeper through tons of silt inside the Tapovan tunnel to reach more than 25 people trapped inside after the glacier disaster in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
With more than two days since the flash flood struck, hopes of finding any more survivors at the Tapovan and Rishi Ganga power project sites receded as rescuers recovered six more bodies on Tuesday. So far, 32 bodies have been recovered in the region. Over 170 people are still missing.
The rescue operation at the NTPC hydro project site, which bore the brunt of the disaster, has been going on uninterrupted since Sunday after the sudden flood in the Alaknanda river system in Chamoli that was possibly triggered by an avalanche or glacier burst.
Measures such as drilling to take oxygen to those trapped inside the tunnel are being contemplated, project consultant A K Shrivastava said at the site in Tapovan.
Rescue teams comprising the Army, ITBP, NDRF and SDRF personnel have made little headway beyond 100 metres inside the tunnel as debris has been constantly flowing in, he said.
The complicated design of the tunnel is making the task even more difficult, prompting the rescue teams to consult NTPC officials.
When contacted, Director General of Police Ashok Kumar said all possible efforts will be made to save the lives of those trapped inside the Tapovan tunnel.
Officials said the Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute has sent the laser imager, a hexagonal device which is suspended from a helicopter and which does laser detecting and ranging.
On Tuesday, a helicopter with the device took several rounds of the affected area for an aerial survey. Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah informed Parliament on Tuesday (February 9) that 197 persons are reported missing in the natural disaster and that includes 139 persons working at the NTPC project. Another 46 persons working at the Rishi Ganga Project that was completely washed away and 12 villagers from the region are also missing, he said in identical statements in both Houses of Parliament.
Clearing the muddy debris is a major challenge faced by joint rescue teams that are working on a war footing since chances of saving lives will recede with time. Luckily, the water level has receded and rescue teams are hoping for early breakthrough with the deployment of various types of earth-moving machinery.
Medical teams are also on standby while officials of the Central and state governments are coordinating the rescue.
Amit Shah informed Parliament that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is monitoring the situation closely. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has visited the disaster site to supervise the rescue operations while R.K. Singh, the Minister of State for Power, was deputed by the Prime Minister to coordinate the rescue work.
As many as 450 ITBP personnel are engaged in the rescue mission along with five NDRF teams and eight teams of Indian Army, including one engineer task force.
According to Shah, an avalanche occurred on Sunday morning in the upper catchment of Rishiganga River, a tributary of the Alaknanda in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, leading to a sudden rise in the water level of the Rishiganga.
Due to flash floods in the river Rishiganga, a functional small hydro project of 13.2 MW was washed away. The flash flood also affected the 520-MW NTPC hydro-power project that was being constructed downstream at Tapovan on the river Dhauli Ganga.
The state government has reported that there is no danger of downstream flooding and the rise in water level has been contained, according to the statement.
The Home Minister said ₹ 1041.00 crore has been allocated to Uttarakhand under the State Disaster Risk Management Fund (SDRMF) for 2021-22. The first installment of the Central Government share amounting to Rs 468.50 crore has been released to the state government.
Some villages in the region have been cut off due to the disaster that has damaged a key bridge and the Border Roads Organization (BRO) is working with other agencies to rapidly restore the connectivity.
(With inputs from Ganapathy Subramaniam in New Delhi)