Glacier burst: All eyes on rescue op at Tapovan tunnel; 35 trapped

So far, 28 bodies have been recovered and the death toll is expected to increase with 171 still missing

Rescue operation underway in the tunnel in Tapovan | Photo: Twitter

Rescue operations in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, where a glacier burst had triggered an avalanche and massive floods on Sunday, is now mainly focussed on a 1,500-metre tunnel at Tapovan, where around 35 people are feared trapped.

So far, 28 bodies have been recovered and the death toll is expected to rise with 171 still missing. Officials said 27 people were rescued alive — 12 were saved from the smaller of the two tunnels at the Tapovan-Vishnugad project site and 15 from the Rishiganga site.

Uttarakhand Director General of Police Ashok Kumar said that efforts are now focused on rescuing around 35 labourers trapped in the tunnel at Tapovan. The flash flood had washed away a barrage at the site and debris had blocked the tunnel’s mouth.

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“The operation was carried out through the night and is under progress. A lot of debris has been removed. We’ve not been able to establish any contact till now,” Aparna Kumar, DIG Sector HQ, ITBP Dehradun, said.

“Clearing of debris and slush continued the whole night. About 120 metres of the tunnel entrance stretch is now clear,” ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said in Delhi. “The Height of accumulated slush reduced more. ITBP personnel are waiting to enter as soon as any movement deep inside the tunnel is possible,” he added.

“We are hopeful we’ll be able to clear the way by noon,” added DGP Kumar.

Officials said the missing people include those working at the hydel power project sites and villagers whose homes nearby were washed away.

Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat conducted an aerial survey of the affected areas on Tuesday and also visited the ITBP hospital in Joshimath where the injured are admitted.

“Twelve people who were rescued from tunnel (on February 7) are admitted here. They’ve complained of body ache as they were hanging on iron bar for 3-4 hours fearing water and debris. Doctors said they’ll recover soon,” the chief minister said.

Related news | Hanging glacier may have broken away: DRDO on Uttarakhand disaster

It appeared to have triggered an avalanche and a deluge that ripped through Alaknanda river system in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalayas. Experts, however, are still trying to determine the exact cause of the disaster in Joshimath.

CM Rawat, after meeting ISRO scientists, said it was due to lakhs of metric tonnes of snow sliding down abruptly from a trigger point on top of a naked hill. He said an elaborate plan will be made to avert any potential tragedy going forward after a comprehensive analysis.

Two power projects – NTPC’s 480 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad project and 13.2 MW Rishiganga Hydel Project – were extensively damaged with scores of labourers caught in tunnels as the waters came rushing in. Thirteen villages are cut off due to damage to roads and bridges.

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