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'Rishiganga has been obliterated from the map'

February 10, 2021 07:38 IST
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IMAGE: Rescue operations in full swing in the Neeti valley, February 8, 2021. Photograph: PTI Photo

While rescue efforts are on in full swing, the narrow tunnel and the massive slush that was brought down by the glacial flood are hampering rescue operations, confirm Swati Bhadauria, the district collector of Chamoli, and Yashwant Singh Chauhan, the superintendent of police.

Both the top officers in charge of Chamoli district tell Prasanna D Zore/ that rescue efforts have gathered momentum and the Indian Army, the Indo Tibetan Border Police and the National Disaster Response Force are working hard to clear the debris that has blocked the main tunnel of the Tapovan Vishnugad Power project, where as many as 30 workers are reported to have been trapped.

"30 bodies have been recovered out of 206 people who have been reported to be missing. Rescue operations are on to find out the 176 people who are still missing. The Indian Army and ITBP jawans along with the NDRF teams are carrying on with the rescue operation at the Tapovan tunnel," informs Bhadauria.

While rescue efforts are on in full swing, the narrow tunnel and the massive slush that was brought down by the glacial flood are hampering rescue operations.

"We are only hoping to clear the debris by the end of the day, but nothing can be guaranteed at this point in time. The rescue teams are working hard to do it," says Bhadauria, who along with Chauhan and other top district officials have been present at the site since Sunday, February 8, when a glacial flood swamped the Rishiganga Power project and Tapovan Vishnugad Power Project.

"The work on clearing the tunnel is still going on. We have yet not reached a juncture where we could have found people who are alive or dead. The massive debris is being cleared and it is very difficult working where only one JCB is being pressed because the tunnel is very narrow," says Chauhan.

"All the injured who were taken out of the tunnel or debris have been taken to the ITBP's First Battalion hospital. They are all recovering well," says the SP.

"Rishiganga project has been completely washed away and three bodies that went downstream along with the debris have been recovered. The place has been obliterated from the map of the area just like what happened at Rambada in Kedarnath (in 2013)," he adds.

According to Bhadauria, links have been established with as many as 13 villages which were disconnected because of the glacial flood.

"Those villages that had been cut off were provided with rations, and medical supplies, and medical teams were airlifted to these villages and we have also established a zip line through which we are supplying rations and fuel necessary for the operation of telecom towers," she says.

Chauhan says since most of the villages were located atop the hill, and since the river streams of the Dhauliganga and Rishiganga flow through narrow rocks at the base of these hills, not many villages suffered damage to property and lives.

"Most of the villages that were situated along the path of this flood did not suffer major damage because most of these villages are situated along the steeps and not along the banks. Be it the Dhauliganga or Rishiganga stream, since both flow through a narrow valley, there is not enough space for settlements."

"Twelve people from these villages, who were grazing cattle along the river banks, have been reported to be missing," says Chauhan.

Ask Bhadauria about the chances of survival of the 30-35 workers still trapped inside the tunnel, she says, "There was some amount of ventilation that was available earlier but we do not know what the situation is there right now. There was ventilation within the tunnel."

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