A multi-agency operation to rescue an estimated 39 people trapped inside a big tunnel at Tapovan has started after a glacier burst-triggered deluge in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, officials said on Monday.
The tragedy has left 18 dead and over 200 missing as on Monday evening.
Personnel from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and some state disaster response teams are clearing the tunnel. The 12-foot high and 15-foot wide tunnel at Tapovan was blocked with slush and debris, trapping workers of an NTPC thermal power plant that was washed away. The tunnel is over 2.5 km long with just one entry and bifurcates into two, officials said, adding that it was hard to tell where the workers were trapped or whether they were together at all.
“Our teams are working overnight to rescue nearly 30 workers who are trapped in the tunnel. Specialised equipment for such operations has been deployed. We are hopeful we will able to rescue everyone,” ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey told PTI in Delhi.
“There is a huge amount of debris inside the tunnel. About 80 metres inside the tunnel is cleared and accessible, and it looks like about 100 metres of debris will have to be cleared more,” he added.
Pandey said nearly 300 ITBP personnel are currently deployed at the site.
Another officer said it is estimated that around 34 people are trapped in the “head race tunnel” or HRT.
The force’s Additional Director General M S Rawat also reached the spot Monday morning to take stock of the situation and interacted with officers working at the site, Pandey added.
ITBP teams were seen clearing the over 1,500-metre-long tunnel, which is executed till over 1,329 metres, using earthmovers driven by local workers.
A team of senior officials, in a video provided by the force, were seen analysing the tunnel’s map to find the best way of approach.
ITBP rescuers were seen carrying wooden planks which will be used to create a platform to pull out the trapped people using ropes.