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Uttarakhand flash flood: Rescue teams at NTPC plant change strategy after told it was wrong tunnel

The delay of three days because of incorrect information could prove to be a setback to hopes of finding survivors, said district authorities and rescue officials.

Written by Lalmani Verma | Joshimath, Tapovan |
February 11, 2021 3:12:12 am
Rescue work underway near Raini Village in Chamoli district Wednesday. (Express photo by Gajendra Yadav)

RESCUE TEAMS involved in tracing missing workers in an underground tunnel at the NTPC hydro power plant in Tapovan, which was ravaged by flash floods on February 7, had to change their strategy Wednesday evening after being told by NTPC officials that the workers were trapped in a separate tunnel.

The delay of three days because of incorrect information could prove to be a setback to hopes of finding survivors, said district authorities and rescue officials.

A total of 170 people are still missing since the day the flood hit Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. So far 34 bodies have been found, including two on Wednesday, said officials. According to a report of the state emergency control room, 10 of the bodies have been identified, the rest are unidentified.

According to officials, for the past three days, rescue personnel had been carrying out an operation in the Intake Adit tunnel of the NTPC plant to establish contact with the missing workers. On Wednesday, they were informed that the workers were trapped in another silt filtration tunnel, located 12 metre below the Intake Adit tunnel.

Garhwal Commissioner Ravinath Raman told The Indian Express, “Earlier, we were told about probability of about 34 labourers present at 180 metre inside the Intake Adit Tunnel and we were digging in that direction. Today, they (NTPC authorities) informed that last known work site of the labourers was a silt filtration tunnel (SFT) that is 12 metre below the Intake Adit Tunnel and about 72 metre from its opening. Since we got this information now, the strategy of going up to 180 metre has been changed. Drilling will be done in the SFT and lights with cameras will be lowered there to the area.”

Sources said state government authorities in a meeting in Joshimath on Wednesday directed NTPC officials to share “correct” information and send tunnel-related expert engineers to the site to assist the rescue teams.

“The tunnel has become unstable at places due to slush. So we want expert experienced engineer to guide the rescue time,” the Commissioner said.

Two more excavators were also pressed into service on Wednesday to speed up the rescue operation. “If we are able to save even 20 to 40 seconds by engaging more excavators, that is a precious time,” said an ITBP official engaged in the rescue operation.

Of the two bodies recovered on Wednesday, one was found in Chamoli district and another in Kirtinagar in Tehri Garhwal district, about 170 km from Tapovan area, said officials. Also, body parts have been found by rescue teams are different locations.

A help desk was set up at Tapovan hydro power project site on Wednesday where people can share photographs and other information of their relatives who have gone missing from that particular site. Another was set up at Tapovan police outpost.

To facilitate identification of bodies and sharing details of missing people, the state police have created a WhatsApp group – “Missing Chamoli Aapda” in which relatives of missing people along with all concerned administration officials have been added.

Uttarakhand police chief spokesperson Nilesh Anand Bharney told The Indian Express that two bodies – one of a person from Jharkhand and another from UP – were identified with the help of the WhatsApp group.

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