Uttarakhand: No breakthrough yet in search for trapped workers in flood-hit tunnel

Uttarakhand: No breakthrough yet in search for trapped workers in flood-hit tunnel

Dehradun, February 13, 2021

Rescuers on Saturday were busy widening a hole in a tunnel to find 25 to 35 trapped people in the Tapovan project area of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand that was hit by flash floods triggered by a glacier burst on February 7.

Top government and police officials said there was no big breakthrough yet in the rescue work which entered the seventh day.

"We have made a hole but we can't say it is a big breakthrough unless we find something concrete," said a top police official.

But officials claimed the rescue work had been speeded up with the installation of some additional machines like excavators.

Presently, the rescuers are working on two strategies -- drilling a hole vertically downward and also digging and excavating debris and sludge inside the tunnel.

Meanwhile, two more bodies were recovered on Friday taking the total to 38. Nearly 200 people went missing after the Sunday morning deluge in the disaster hit areas of Chamoli district, mostly at two hydel projects – Rishiganga and Topovan-Vishnugad.

"The rescue work inside the tunnel is on in full swing," said Navneet Bhullar, commandant of the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), who is camping at Tapovan site. However, there is still no contact with the trapped people inside.

Two days ago, rescue workers had started drilling the tunnel vertically downward. But within hours, the drilling work was intermittently disrupted due to technical reasons. Rescuers made another attempt last night and made a small hole vertically downward.

Ever since the excavation and digging work began inside the tunnel, the rescuers had been working on multi-pronged strategies in their desperate bid to open the blocked tunnel.

After days of digging and excavation work, jawans of the Army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the SDRF, who are engaged in the rescue works, had managed to open a sizable portion of the tunnel. But the presence of heavy silt and sludge inside the tunnel slowed down the excavation and digging work, top government officials said.

Rescuers also consulted NTPC officials to understand the complicated design of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, an eight-member team of the SDRF has conducted a survey of a lake in the catchment area of the turbulent Rishiganga river which had caused a deluge in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on February 7.

The team headed by Bhullar returned to Reni village in Chamoli district on Saturday evening after collecting samples from the lake besides filming videos of the area.

"We will send these samples and videos to the police headquarters in Dehradun for further action," said Bhullar.

The SDRF team, which began its trek on Friday morning, took nearly 13-14 hours to reach the lake where they set up a temporary camp on Friday evening.

Significantly, there is a considerable discharge from the lake also, Bhullar said. However, he refused to comment further on the discharge issue saying it is up to the scientists to take note of it.

"We have also found a proper route to the lake which may help in case of any emergency in the future," Bhullar said.

After fears expressed by some villagers, the Uttarakhand government on Friday had sounded an alert after satellite images spotted the formation of a lake in the catchment area of the Rishiganga river.

"We have to remain alert as satellite pictures show the formation of a 400m lake at Rishiganga," Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had stated.

Top government officials said that people have been asked not to go near the Rishiganga river and take all precautions.

The government has also asked scientists of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and the Geological Survey of India to depute teams to the Rishiganga valley to prepare a detailed report on the lake formation.

Reports pouring in from different areas of Chamoli district said the flow of Rishiganga abruptly increased many times since Thursday afternoon which forced the authorities to suspend the search operation inside the disaster-hit tunnel of NTPC's 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project for a couple of times.

Rishiganga is a tributary of Dhauliganga river on which the Tapovan project is being built.

Over 200 persons went missing after the Sunday morning deluge that had hit two hydel projects in Chamoli district.

Meanwhile, taking a cue from the Kedarnath disaster of 2013, the Uttarakhand government has now decided to preserve the DNA samples of all the bodies or limbs recovered from the flash flood-hit areas of the state's Chamoli district.

The DNA samples of all the bodies or limbs which have been recovered so far following the disaster are being preserved in a deep freezer at Gopeshwar police station in the district.

"We have decided to take DNA samples of all bodies which have been recovered irrespective of the identification," said Yashwant Singh Chauhan, Superintendent of Police (SP), Chamoli.

This is being done in order to avoid controversies in the near future which usually occurs due to wrong identifications.

Only, 10 bodies have been identified so far, Chauhan said.

Top police sources said the identification process is becoming difficult as more and more people are pouring into Tapovan area to look for their near and dear who are missing in the disaster. "The moment they hear that one body is recovered, all people come for identification. We have to be very calm in such conditions because the issue is highly sensitive," said a top police official.

In the Kedarnath disaster, the government had taken DNA samples of all the human remains which had helped in a big way in identification of victims by their family members.


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