Updated: February 18, 2021 7:09:18 am
With dozens still missing 10 days after the February 7 flash flood in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, search and rescue operations are set to continue.
Uttarakhand floods: What the operations have achieved so far
Hours after the flood severely damaged the hydropower project on the Dhauli Ganga river in Tapovan and slush choked part of the tunnel, ITBP personnel managed to rescue 12 labourers from another part of the tunnel.
But the main operation was at a site where 34 labourers were feared trapped 180 metres inside the tunnel. As much as NDRF and ITBP personnel cleared the slush and debris, they kept running into more of the same.
In a bid to trace the location of the trapped labourers, an aerial survey was done using a helicopter-borne Electromagnetic Pulse Imager for an idea of the density inside the intake tunnel. A drone with cameras was also sent inside the tunnel up to 120 metres, but the cameras did not find any evidence of the presence of humans in that stretch.
Three days after the disaster, rescue teams on February 10 changed their strategy after concluding that the workers may be trapped in another silt filtration tunnel (SFT), located 12 metres below the intake tunnel.
Drilling began into the SFT, but was stopped after the drill ran into sludge at a depth of 6 metres. Another attempt was made to drill into the SFT at a distance of 75 metres from the opening of the Intake Adit tunnel — this effort was successful, but the borewell was not found suitable for lowering cameras and lights due to the pressure of the slush. The borewell was plugged, and the process of removal of slush from the intake tunnel with excavators resumed again.
The first breakthrough was achieved on Sunday (February 14), a week after the flood. Six bodies were recovered; so far, 11 bodies in all have been recovered from the tunnel.
Bodies have also been recovered from the debris of another hydropower plant in Raini village, 5 km upstream of the NTPC site in Tapovan.
Also, SDRF teams have found bodies in rivers including the Dhauli Ganga and Alaknanda downstream in the districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag, and Tehri Garhwal.
What lies ahead for the search and rescue efforts
Only 58 bodies have been recovered from sites including the Tapovan tunnel, Raini village, and rivers so far; at least 146 people are still missing. At least 476 personnel of the SDRF, NDRF, ITBP, and Army, along with medical teams and personnel from the Fire and Revenue Departments and the police, have been deployed in Tapovan, Raini village, and along the rivers from Raini to Srinagar downstream. Another 326 personnel are standing by.
Just about 140 metres of the tunnel at NTPC’s hydropower project in Tapovan has been cleared, which is around 5 per cent of the 2.5-km length of the tunnel. Besides the 34 labourers feared trapped at 180 m, another three labourers are feared to be 1.7 km inside.
There is virtually no hope of finding anyone alive any longer, but officials have said that the entire tunnel will be cleared of slush because the bodies could be anywhere inside. There is no time frame yet on completing that work.
DGP Ashok Kumar said on Monday that the rescue and search operations will continue until all the missing persons are found.
Massive deposits of mud and debris around the barrage in Tapovan and on both banks of the Rishi Ganga river in Raini village had initially restricted the movement of machines and human beings only to a few safe areas. But as the surface of the deposited muck is drying with the rise in temperatures, rescue teams have been directed to launch search operations closer to the river, and to try to approach the barrage at Tapovan using machines.
Over 100 people are feared missing from near the barrage on the Dhauli Ganga in Tapovan. There is no saying when or if any of those who were washed away by the river would be found, officials said.
Chamoli Chief Medical Officer Dr G S Rana said that the labourers whose bodies were recovered from the tunnel and in the mud in Raini village, likely died within half an hour.
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