Day 4: Death Toll in Uttarakhand Rises; Tunnel Rescue Ops Continue

While 32 people are reported to be dead so far, at least 200 are believed to be missing, the state government said.

Updated
India
5 min read
Rescue operations continue at Tapovan Tunnel, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
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The search and rescue operations in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district continued for the fourth consecutive day on Wednesday, 10 February, as the death toll rose to 32 after the flash floods, triggered by what was suspected to be a glacier burst, wreaked havoc in the region.

At least 206 people are still reported to be missing, the state government said on Wednesday.

While the exact cause of the disaster is still being ascertained, Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Singh Rawat later said that according to ISRO, it was not a glacier burst. Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday told Parliament that a landslide triggered the snow avalanche leading to the tragic incident in the state.

The Probable Cause

Shah said the landslide triggered snow avalanche covering approximately 14 square km area and caused a flash flood in the Rishiganga river downstream.

He further said that the incident was observed from the satellite data of 7 February, in catchment of Rishi Ganga river at the terminus of the glacier at an altitude of 5,600 metres.

The home minister added that the avalanche hit the upper catchment of the Rishiganga river, a tributary of the Alaknanda river in Chamoli, leading to a sudden rise in the water levels of the Rishiganga river.

Due to flash floods on account of the rising water levels in the Rishiganga, a functional Rishiganga small hydro project of 13.2 megawatt was washed away. The under-construction 520-megawatt NTPC Hydro Power Project downstream at Tapovan on the river Dhauli Ganga was also affected.

Rescue Ops Still Underway at Tapovan Tunnel

Rescue operations underway at the Tapovan tunnel.
Rescue operations underway at the Tapovan tunnel.
(Photo: The Quint)
Rescue operations continue at Tapovan Tunnel, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
Rescue operations continue at Tapovan Tunnel, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
(Photo: PTI)

At least 25-35 people remain trapped inside the Tapovan tunnel for a fourth consecutive day since the disaster, as the heavy amount of debris and water that accumulated inside it made the rescue operations challenging.

A joint team of ITBP, NDRF, SDRF, and other agencies entered into the Tapovan tunnel on Wednesday morning. While the tunnel is still approachable up to about 120 metres, more slush and water coming from inside the tunnel is making the way ahead difficult, the ITPB said on Wednesday.

“The challenge we are facing is that debris and slush is coming out from the tunnel. Machines, too, continue to work inside the tunnel. We need to progress carefully as water with high pressure might come from inside the tunnel,” Aparna Kumar, DIG Sector HQ, ITBP, Chamoli was quoted by news agency ANI as saying.
Rescue operations continue at Tapovan Tunnel, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
Rescue operations continue at Tapovan Tunnel, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
(Photo: PTI)

ITBP ADG (Western Command) Manoj Singh Rawat on Tuesday reviewed the ongoing rescue efforts.

The ITBP on Tuesday had said that only a stretch of 50-60 metres was left to be cleared after continuous effort through the night to reach a bent in the tunnel where these men were said to be stuck in a vehicle. Rescuers had deployed sniffer dogs to reach the trapped persons.

“Our initial target was to clear debris from 180 metres from the tunnel's mouth, from where there is a bend to the right side where over 30 persons are feared stuck. These people were riding a vehicle when flash flood hit the project,” ITBP Spokesperson Vivek Pandey told news agency IANS.

DNA Samples to Be Collected to Recognise Bodies

 Family members and relatives of missing people get in a verbal spat with officials at a makeshift enquiry centre, near Tapovan Tunnel in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
Family members and relatives of missing people get in a verbal spat with officials at a makeshift enquiry centre, near Tapovan Tunnel in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
(Photo: PTI)

The state government had on Tuesday said that its officials will be collecting DNA samples of the unattended recovered bodies.

Of the 32 bodies, 25 have been identified, while seven remain unattended, IANS reported.

“Multi-agency operation is on at multiple sites of the state to trace the missing persons. From the Kedarnath disaster of 2013, the experience that we have gathered is that the DNA samples of the bodies have to be kept safe for their identification in the future,” Rawat was quoted by IANS as saying.

While 15 people from Jharkhand are reported to be missing in the aftermath of the disaster, nearly 70 persons from Uttar Pradesh are also untraceable.

Extensive Operations Underway

Shah on Tuesday told Parliament that the ITBP has set up its Control Room and 450 ITBP personnel with all necessary equipment are engaged in rescue and relief operations.

Five National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have also reached the spot and are engaged in rescue and relief operations. Eight teams of the Indian Army, including one Engineer Task Force (ETF), are carrying out rescue operations at the site.

Villagers watch the rescue operations carried at Tapovan barrage, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
Villagers watch the rescue operations carried at Tapovan barrage, following Sunday’s glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
(Photo: PTI)

“One medical column with two ambulances is also deployed and one diving team of Indian Navy has also reached the site. Five helicopters of the Indian Air Force have also been engaged in rescue operations. A control room has been established at Joshimath,” Shah informed the House.

A team of Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) has also reached the site for surveillance and reconnaissance.

Meanwhile, the state government has reported that there is no danger of downstream flooding and the rise in water level has been contained, adding that the Centre and the state government are keeping a strict vigil on the situation.

A state control room at Haridwar has been set up to coordinate with the Uttarakhand government about the rescue and relief work.

(With inputs from ANI and IANS.)

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