Standing on the banks of the Damodar in Bokaro district on Friday evening, Gangu Kewar had no doubt that the 10 youths on the concrete platform would live to tell the tale. “I would have worried if there were only two or three of them. Here, the older boys seemed to be constantly talking to the younger ones and they all stuck together. We did our part too by shouting words of encouragement,” Gangu said.
Gangu, who lives in Panchora basti of Chas block, was the first one to spot the teens and youths when he went for a bath. “It must have been around 1 in the afternoon. The boys were on and around the platform near the check dam. As soon as I entered the river, I understood that the water from the dam was on its way.
“I shouted to the boys, asking them to rush to either bank, but they did not realise how serious it could get. Soon, the water was upon us,” said Gangu, who belongs to a caste of fishermen and sometimes catches fish in the river.
The 10 youths, all aged between 14 and 20, were trapped on the platform intended to break the rush of the water falling from a height after floodgates of the Tenughat dam were opened, allegedly without warning, on Friday.
They were rescued late in the evening, but for a few hours, the incident raised the spectre of the June 8 tragedy in Mandi, in which 24 engineering students were washed away after the gates of a dam on the Beas were opened.
Eleven youths, all residents of Bharat Coking Coal Ltd’s Chandwadih colony in Dugda, had been playing cricket on Friday before they decided to go for a bath in the river 7 km away. Only two or three knew how to swim.
They entered the river from the bank on which the Damodar Valley Corporation has a power plant. As the swirling river rose, they scrambled on to the platform, from where one of them, 20-year-old Deepak Chauhan, managed to leap off and fight the current to swim to safety.
Deepak informed villagers on the Panchora bank, and the rescue operation began. A team of 12 tried to reach the 10 youths 200 m away on the platform, using inflated tubes of truck wheels to stay afloat.
“We could see the people assembling on the basti side. They were shouting instructions, but we could not hear anything above the roar of the water. We were panicking, but the older ones among us took care to keep the morale of the younger boys up,” said 18-year-old Ashok Kumar, one of the rescued youths. “Guddu, the eldest among us, did continued…