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'We fear 100-plus people are missing'

February 08, 2021 07:32 IST
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IMAGE: Rescue operations underway after the glacier broke off at Joshimath in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, February 7, 2021. Photograph: Rameshwar Gaur/ANI Photo

Yashwant Singh Chauhan, the district superintendent of police, spoke to Prasanna D Zore/ at 9.55 pm, Sunday, February 7.

The Rescue Operation

We don't have the exact figure of those missing, but we fear about 100-plus people are missing.

The Rishi Ganga Power Project has been completely washed away by this avalanche.

32-33 people are reported to be missing at this site. Further downstream, at the NTPC's (Tapovan Vishnugad) power project at Tapovan, where according to the contractors at the plant, and the records of people maintained by the Central Industrial Security Force present there for the security of the project, there are entries of around 178 people.

Out of these 178, 12 people have been rescued in a joint operation of the State Disaster Response Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Indian Army's Garhwal Scouts.

IMAGE: An ITBP rescue team at the Tapovan Tunnel after the glacier broke off in Joshimath on Sunday. Photograph: PTI Photo

According to reports of eyewitnesses we are gathering, some of these 178 people, who were working out in the open, ran towards safety as soon as the they realised what was happening. We are yet to ascertain how many of these 178 managed to escape from the site.

The challenges

Our major problem right now is that the rescue team of the ITBP and SDRF have been unable to enter into a major tunnel, which is 2 to 2.5 km long, because of the heavy slush deposits in the tunnel, where we believe there could possibly be 35-40 people trapped inside.

IMAGE: The bridge connecting Tapovan to Bhanguel village damaged in floods after the glacier broke off in Joshimath on Sunday. Photograph: PTI Photo

All the entry points into this tunnel have been blocked completely because of the massive debris and slush brought down by the avalanche.

Operations have been suspended right now because of the fear of more water gushing down due to rise in water level upstream, but we hope and expect to begin our rescue operations early morning and try and rescue those trapped in there.

The NDRF teams have not yet reached here, but we have pressed four teams of the SDRF and then there are army men from the Garhwal Scouts and the ITBP that is engaged in the rescue operations.

The DGP, who was on a tour to Almora, cut short his visit and is camping at Joshimath. The DGP was present at the site for three hours and will head again to the rescue site on Monday morning.

The Plan

IMAGE: Rescue operation underway after the glacier broke off in Joshimath on Sunday. Photograph: @BJP4UK/Twitter via PTI Photo

We are planning to use heavy machinery to remove the slush and the debris and enter the main tunnel.

It is not possible to do it manually because people are rescue teams are getting trapped into slush and unable to move freely.

Thankfully, NTPC has made a rough road going into the tunnel and there were no major problems in bringing down the heavy machinery to the rescue site.

We have already dispatched two JCBs and Pokland machines at the rescue site. They were pressed into service for about three-four hours and have cleared about 100m into the tunnel.

Even the engineers have no clear idea about how far these 35-40 people are trapped inside this 2.5 km long tunnel. We will get more clarity once the rescue operations begin again on Monday morning.

Those rescued have suffered only minor injuries. but have been in a state of shock. They have been hospitalised and are recovering quite well. They might come out of their trauma in a day or two.

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