Dehradun: A multi-agency operation to rescue an estimated 34 people trapped inside a big tunnel at Tapovan is being carried out after a glacier burst-triggered deluge killed 11 people in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district while over 202 are missing, officials said on Monday.
Personnel from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and some state disaster response teams are clearing the tunnel since Sunday night that has been blocked with slush, debris and silt, and are inching closer towards the stuck workers.
“Our teams are working overnight to rescue about 30 workers who are trapped in the tunnel. Specialised equipment for such operations has been deployed. We are hopeful we will able to rescue everyone,” ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said.
“There is a huge amount of debris inside the tunnel. About 100 metres inside the tunnel is cleared and accessible, and it looks like about 100 metres of debris more will have to be cleared. This will take a few more hours,” he added.
Pandey said nearly 300 ITBP personnel are currently deployed at the site.
Another officer said it is estimated that around 34 people are trapped in the 12-foot-high ‘head race tunnel’ or HRT.
ITBP Additional Director General (Western Command) M S Rawat also reached the spot Monday morning to take stock of the situation and interacted with officers working at the site, Pandey added.
ITBP teams were seen clearing the nearly 1,500-metre-long tunnel using earthmovers driven by local workers.
A team of senior officials, in a video provided by the force, were seen analysing the tunnel’s map to find the best way of approach.
The tunnel has only one entry, an official said.
ITBP rescuers were seen carrying wooden planks which will be used by rescuers to wade in through the slush and also help create a platform to pull out the trapped people using ropes.
Pandey said the teams are ready with dragon light sets, oxygen cylinders and stretchers to provide immediate medical help to those trapped inside.
Teams of the NDRF also reached the spot late Sunday night and were seen using shovels to clear the tunnel’s approach.
Both the ITBP and the NDRF have brought along canine teams to help them detect lives trapped underneath better.
More teams have been sent to the site on Mi-17 helicopters that landed at the helipad in Joshimath, NDRF chief S N Pradhan said in a Twitter post. He said the agencies are working in close coordination.
Some teams from the Army, including from the medical Corps, have also reached the disaster spot, a senior official supervising the operation said.
At least 12 workers were rescued from a smaller tunnel in this area by ITBP on Sunday evening.
Some of them been admitted to the ITBP hospital at Joshimath, nearly 25 km from the Tapovan power project site, the officials said.
They are stable, an ITBP officer said.
Pandey said as per figures provided to them by the administration 202 people are missing at present. He said workers from at least three states — Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — are among them.
“The trouble is that the supervisors of these projects are feared to have been washed away by the floods. They would have better known the identities of those missing.
“However, we are informed that about 10-11 are locals from Uttarakhand, 50 or more are from Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh and some are stated to be from Bihar,” the official said.
Our teams are also scanning the riverbed downstream, Pandey said, adding 11 bodies have been recovered till now. PTI