Uttarakhand disaster

DEHRADUN, Feb 10: Using drones and remote-sensing equipment, rescue teams intensified efforts on Wednesday to reach the 25-35 men trapped in a sludge-choked tunnel since the Uttarakhand glacier disaster three days ago and more than 170 remained missing, hopes of finding them alive fading with every passing hour.

The multi-agency rescue operation at the NTPC hydel project site has been going on uninterrupted since Sunday, when a possible glacier break in the upper reaches of the Himalayas triggered an avalanche and floods in the Alaknanda river system, with no breakthrough in sight, officials said.

So far, 32 bodies have been recovered from different places in the disaster-hit areas of Chamoli district. Eight bodies have been identified and 174 people are still missing, the State Emergency Control Centre in Dehradun said.

The missing people include those working at NTPC’s  480 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad project and the 13.2 MW Rishiganga Hydel Project and villagers whose homes were washed away as a wall of water came hurtling down the mountain sides.

A focal point of the rescue work has been efforts to penetrate through tonnes of silt, sludge and debris to get to the 25-35 people, who were at work inside the 1,500 metre tunnel at Tapovan when the waters came rushing in.

“All strategies at the moment are focussed on rescuing those trapped inside the tunnel with the help of all the resources at our disposal, including drones and remote-sensing equipment,” Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Nilesh Anand Bharne, Uttarakhand Police chief spokesperson, said at Tapovan.

Drilling through the debris has become more difficult with the silt inside the tunnel drying up and getting harder, he said.

Rescue teams have so far managed to progress 80 metres inside the tunnel and have to make their way through tonnes of debris for at least 100 metres more to reach those trapped inside, the DIG added. The complicated design of the tunnel is making the task difficult, prompting the rescue teams to consult NTPC officials.

More than 600 Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel are engaged in the search-and-rescue operations.

Several measures, including drilling holes to take oxygen to the men inside the tunnel, are also being contemplated, added project consultant AK Shrivastava.

The multi-agency group of rescuers flew a camera-equipped drone inside the Tapovan tunnel on Tuesday but could not pinpoint the location of survivors or the way forward due to darkness, a senior National Disaster Response Force officer said. – PTI