A massive operation has been on since 7 February night to rescue nearly 40 people believed to be trapped inside a tunnel, after a glacier burst in Uttarakhand on Sunday, 7 February, morning.
The death toll in the flash flood that occurred in Chamoli district has risen to 19, while at least 202 people are missing.
On Monday, Indian Army personnel along with Engineer Task Force opened the mouth of the 12-foot high and 15-foot wide tunnel at Tapovan in Chamoli. It was blocked with slush and debris, trapping workers of an NTPC thermal power plant that was washed away. The tunnel is 2.5 km long with one entry and bifurcates into two, officials said.
Multi-agency forces involved in the rescue operations have cleared the 90 meter stretch of debris in the tunnel and machines are not able to move beyond 100 meters inside.
On Monday, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat visited Chamoli district to assess the situation post the disaster and was briefed by MS Rawat, ADG Western Command ITBP, on the rescue operations.
“A joint team of NDRF, SDRF & Army is conducting a rescue operation. The team has reached the 130-metre mark in Tapovan tunnel, it may take two to three hours to reach the t-point. Efforts are underway to safely rescue those who are stuck in the tunnel,” said TS Rawat, reported ANI.
Rescue teams are on standby with light sets, oxygen cylinders, stretchers, and medical aid to provide immediate help to those brought out.
ITBP Rescues 12 People from Another Tunnel
At least 12 workers were rescued by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) from a smaller tunnel in the same area on Sunday, 7 February, evening after four hours of efforts. Three people were found unconscious.
In a press release, Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said that the rescue work at the National Thermal Power Corporation’s tunnel had to be halted due to a rise in the water level.
ITBP personnel also provided supplies to villages that are cut off due to the flash flood in Chamoli.
Extensive Operations Underway; Bodies Still Being Recovered
Along with the ITBP, the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force (IAF), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), and the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) have also been deployed for the search and rescue operations.
Indian Air Force PRO Wing Commander Indranil Nandi told ANI that all the specialised personnel who were airlifted from Delhi have reached Dehradun.
Amrendra Kumar Sengar, IG NDRF said that a lot of bodies are still being recovered since they are away from the incident site due to a speedy and strong flow of water.
“Since the flow of water was very fast initially, bodies are being recovered far away from the incident site. Some are trapped in deep areas and others in tunnels, so there is issue of access,” he told ANI.
While authorities expect the death toll to rise, most of the missing individuals are believed to be workers working at the Rishi Ganga power project. The breach has triggered massive flooding along Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers.
Two C-130J Super Hercules with three companies of NDRF and 15 tonnes of other loads and equipment were sent from Hindan airbase in Ghaziabad to the affected areas. An additional ALH deployed at Joshimath has undertaken recce of affected areas, according to the Indian Air Force twitter handle.
An Air Commodore-rank officer has been deployed at Jolly Grant by Air Force as Task Force commander to coordinate aerial effort for rescue operations.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat is monitoring military efforts for rescue operations. The military station near Rishikesh is coordinating the rescue and relief operation. The situation is also being monitored by the army headquarters. About 600 army personnel have been sent to flood-affected areas.
A DRDO team of snow and avalanche experts from its newly-created Defence Geo-Informatics Research Establishment will be reaching the site on Monday to assess the situation, DRDO officials said.
PM Modi, HM Shah Take Stock of Situation
Earlier in the day, PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah took to Twitter to say they have been continuously speaking to senior authorities and getting updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work, and relief operations. “Am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand,” PM Modi wrote.
The Home Minister said that maximum assistance will be provided to ensure minimum loss of life and property.
While PM Modi approved an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) for the kin of the deceased, the state government, too, promised financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh each.
‘Saving Lives Our Priority’: CM Rawat
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Rawat reached Reni village in Chamoli district and was briefed on the situation by the Indian Army and ITBP officials.
Addressing the media later in the day, Rawat said that only experts can tell the reason behind the glacier burst and the government is currently focused on saving lives.
“The Indian Army has reached the spot, a team of NDRF that has reached Dehradun is en route to Chamoli. Doctors have camped there. A team of 60 SDRF personnel with equipment have also reached the spot,” he told the media, as quoted by ANI.
“Five locals, including shepherds with their 180 sheep and goats, were swept away in the flash flood. We are assuming that around 125 people are missing. The number can be higher,” he said.
Sharing helpline numbers, Rawat asked those stuck in affected areas or those in need of help to call on: 1070 or 9557444
Politicians, Ministers Offer Support; Condolences Pour in from Across the World
Several Indian politicians from across party lines, including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Rajnath Singh, and others expressed grief and offered condolences.
The US State Department also expressed condolences for the deceased.
“Our deepest condolences to those affected by the glacier burst and landslide in India. We grieve with the family and friends of the deceased and extend our hopes for a speedy and full recovery for the injured,” it said.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed solidarity with India following the tragedy.
“France expresses its full solidarity with India, after a glacier burst in the Uttarakhand province, leading to the disappearance of over 100 people. Our thoughts are with them and their families,” Macron said in a statement.
(With inputs from ANI.)