Glacier burst toll up at 31, race against time to save 170 missing people

Rahul M
·6-min read

The death toll from the Uttarakhand glacier disaster has risen to 31 with the recovery of five more bodies, even as a multi-agency operation to rescue around 30 workers feared trapped inside a swamped tunnel at the Tapovan power project in Chamoli district continued on Tuesday, officials said.

Around 170 people are still missing after the Sunday's disaster apparently caused by a glacier burst, according to the latest data.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said its personnel recovered two bodies from debris in Raini village on Tuesday morning.

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The workers have been trapped in the 12-foot-high and about 2.5-km-long 'head race tunnel' (HRT).

'Clearing of debris and slush continued the whole night. About 120 metres of the tunnel entrance stretch is now clear,' ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said in Delhi.

'Height of accumulated slush reduced more. ITBP personnel are waiting to enter as soon as any movement deep inside the tunnel is possible,' he said.

A senior official, however, said the rescuers have not been able to make any contact with those stuck inside but they are hopeful for 'signs of life'.

Relief is also being distributed by helicopters among residents of more than a dozen villages cut off due to the washing away of a bridge in the avalanche at Malari.

Private and IAF helicopters have so far distributed around 100 ration kits in the affected areas of 13 villages with a total population of around 2,500, officials said.

On Tuesday, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat undertook an aerial survey of the affected areas, visited the ITBP hospital in Joshimath and met the 12 workers who were rescued from a small tunnel in Tapovan on Sunday evening.

Talking to reporters, Rawat said the priority is to get to those trapped inside the tunnel and save as many lives as possible.

U'khand disaster: 70 from UP, including 34 from Lakhimpur Kheri, missing

At least 70 people from Uttar Pradesh are feared missing in the glacier burst at Joshimath in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district that triggered an avalanche and a deluge in the Alaknanda river system that washed away hydroelectric stations on Sunday, officials said.

Of the 70 people, 34 are from Lakhimpur Kheri district alone.

'As of now, 70 people from Uttar Pradesh are feared missing, including 34 from Lakhimpur Kheri, nine from Saharanpur and five from Shravasti,' Relief Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh Sanjay Goyal told PTI on Tuesday.

197 people missing, 20 dead in Uttarakhand flood: Home Minister Amit Shah tells Rajya Sabha

As many as 197 people are missing while 20 have died in Sunday's avalanche and flash floods in Uttarakhand, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

He said the figures received from the state government may change and the situation is being monitored round-the-clock at the highest level by the Centre and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

Five more bodies were recovered on Tuesday taking the death toll from the Uttarakhand glacier disaster to 31 as multiple agencies raced against time to reach about 30 workers trapped inside a tunnel in a power project site and 175 people remained missing.

A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on Sunday, triggering an avalanche and a deluge in the Alaknanda river system that washed away hydroelectric stations and endangered lives of people living along the banks.

Shah told the Rajya Sabha that the rising water levels washed away the functional Rishiganga small hydro project of 13.2 MW and also affected the under-construction 520 MW NTPC Hydro Power Project at Tapovan on the downstream of the Dhauli Ganga river.

'As per information received from the Government of Uttarakhand, 20 people have died and six persons have been injured so far. As per information, a total of 197 people are reported missing which includes 139 of an under-construction project of NTPC, 46 of the functional Rishi Ganga Project and 12 villagers,' he said.

Twelve people working on the NTPC project and 15 on the Rishi Ganga one have been saved. In a tunnel of NTPC project, approximately 25–35 people are suspected to be trapped, Shah said.

'Rescue operation to evacuate these people is going on a war footing and all-out efforts are being made for searching missing persons.

'I assure the House that the Centre is extending all possible assistance to the state government for relief and rescue work. The Central government is working in close coordination with the state and all necessary steps, which are considered appropriate, are being taken,' he said.

Since a bridge has been washed away due to the deluge, 13 villages around the place of the incident have been cut off. Necessary supplies and medical assistance are being provided to these villages through helicopters, the Union Home Minister said.

Collapse of rock mass weakened due to freezing may have caused Uttarakhand flash floods: Scientists

A rock mass, weakened due to years of freezing and thawing of snow, may have led to the creation of a weak zone, triggering its collapse that resulted in flash floods in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on Sunday, initial observations by scientists of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) suggest.

The crashing rock mass also brought earth and mounds of snow with it. The friction may have resulted in heating, which could have caused the floods, the observations suggest.

Scientists from the institute conducted a helicopter survey of the area to find clues as to what led to the deadly flash floods that swept everything in its way.

So far, the flash floods have claimed 28 lives with around 170 people still missing. Kalachand Sain, Director of the WIHG, said the glaciers where the incident occurred feed the Rishi Ganga river that ultimately joins the Dhauli Ganga.

'This region has a very steep gradient. Our observations suggest that the rock mass may have weakened due to freezing and thawing. This sometimes leads to the development of a weak zone and fractures.

'As the rock mass weakened, the glacier and snow came down crashing, it resulted in flash floods,' he said.

The steep slopes of the mountains in the region further increased the intensity of the crash.

Two teams of the WIHG comprising five glaciologists left for Joshimath on Monday to ascertain the reason behind the incident.

An institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the WIHG studies the Himalayan environment and its geology. Sain said an initial report will also be sent to the DST.

US condoles deaths in Uttarakhand flood

The US has condoled the loss of lives due to the avalanche caused by a glacier burst in India's Uttarakhand state and extended wishes for a speedy recovery of those injured.

'Our thoughts are with our Indian friends and partners during this challenging time. We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased, and we hope for a successful rescue effort and a speedy and full recovery for the injured,' Ned Price, spokesperson of the Department of State told reporters, said.

A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on Sunday, triggering an avalanche and a deluge in the Alaknanda river system that washed away hydroelectric stations and trapped more than 100 labourers who are feared dead.

Twenty-six bodies have been recovered and 171 people still missing as multiple agencies worked at rescuing over 30 workers feared trapped in a tunnel at a power project site.

Congressman Tony Cardenas also expressed his concerns for the people suffered in the incident.

'Praying for the people of India,' he said in a tweet.

Inputs: PTI, ANI