Over two dozen B.Tech students from Hyderabad on a trip to Kullu-Manali were feared to have been washed away in a flash flood in the river Beas on Sunday after authorities of Larji hydelpower project opened the floodgates of the project’s dam, reportedly without warning.
Students of Vigyan Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Bachuapalli, located around 20 km from Hyderabad, the 26 had started from Shimla Sunday morning for Kullu-Manali.
The toll could rise as rescue operations were hampered by non-availability of searchlights and divers. Till late in the night, none of the students had been found.
The power project’s floodgates were opened around 6.30 pm and, minutes later, the students were washed away.
The government admitted that the authorities did not follow the right protocol on use of hooters and other warning signals on the release of the water from the hydel project.
Reports reaching Shimla said the students were in a large group of 50, including staff, and travelling in two tourist buses. They had gone down to the river to bathe and take photographs near Thalout on the Kullu-Mandi national highway.
A few students realised the sudden rise in the water level and managed to run to safety. “We saw a wall of water hit those who were on the banks. They fell flat and disappeared under the waves. The police reached very late and carried nothing to start a rescue operation,” said one of the survivors, Sumiran.
There was also chaos at the spot as people blocked the National Highway and held demonstrations. They were persuaded to clear the road for movement of rescue teams and material and ambulances.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh promised action against officials of the Larji project who opened the flood gates “without proper warning”.
Mandi Deputy Commissioner Divesh Kumar said that due to darkness, the rescue teams found it difficult to start search operations. “We have information about 24 students including six girls missing.”
Telangana Chief Secretary Dr Rajiv Sharma said 40 students had gone on a study tour to Himachal and had halted near the Beas while returning.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao has sent officials to Manali to coordinate rescue and relief efforts.