MORE THAN 300 salt pan workers who were trapped in floodwaters near Hajipir area on the Indo-Pakistan international border in Kutch district were rescued by teams of NDRF and Indian Air Force helicopters late Sunday evening. The IAF airlifted 123 of the workers while the others were taken to safety using boats and vehicles, officials said.
Government officials of Kutch district said that 319 workers of Satyesh Brinechem Private Limited were trapped around 20 km inside the desert early Sunday when the Nara dam overflowed and water from Fulay and other areas flooded the saltpans. The workers of the bromine-manufacturing company were cut off for around 24 hours as roads were submerged or damaged and mobile networks down, officials said.
Sub-divisional Magistrate of Nakhatrana in Kutch, Govindsinh Rathod, told The Indian Express on Monday that he had received a distress call from a relative of one of the workers later on Sunday. “I received a phone-call from a resident of Nakhtrana informing me that his brother and a dozen other workers had not returned from the salt pans,” the SDM said. “When we reached the spot with an NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) team, we found that not only a dozen but more than 300 people were trapped in the floodwaters.”
Rathod said that the NDRF had only one inflatable boat and that the road leading out of the salt pans had been damaged, hampering the rescue efforts. Kutch District Collector Remya Mohan then sought the help of the Indian Air Force to airlift the stranded workers. “We started the rescue operation at around 3 pm but the light was fading fast and we were running out of time to shit the people to safety,” Rathod said. “There was no electricity supply in the area and neither were phone lines operational. Therefore, the collector sought the help of IAF. An IAF helicopter did five sorties, airlifting 123 people in all before sunset.”
As it grew dark, the helicopter had to return but the rescue operation went on till 10:30 pm. “The IAF helicopter dropped 23 people to Khavda and the rest to a safer location near Nara village. People were given shelter at a gaushala (cattle shelter) and supplied with food, water and medicines,” the SDM said, adding the trapped people were migrant labourers from states including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
“Executives of the company later told us that as the communication lines had snapped, they were unable to approach government authorities for help and the damaged roads hampered the movement of vehicles,” the SDM said. “The group of workers, comprising women and children remained cut off for around 24 hours as the desert was flooded following 17 inch (around 430 mm) of rain on Saturday.”
Meanwhile, the IAF also rescued people trapped in floodwaters in Jamnagar district on Sunday. “Rescue missions were also undertaken in Jodia and Pittar areas near Jamnagar where two Mi17 helicopters were pressed into action to rescue 29 stranded people,” PTI quoted a military officer as saying.