Multiple agencies have mounted a round-the-clock rescue operation to pull out all stuck inside the Tapovan tunnel since Sunday, February 7, when a catastrophic sudden deluge ripped through several districts of Uttarakhand. The death toll in the tragedy has reached 31 and around 170 are said to be missing. About 30 workers are believed to be stuck inside a tunnel of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited project on river Dhauli Ganga in Tapovan.
The rescue work proceeded at a great speed on Monday with teams from the Indian Army, NDRF, SDRF and ITBP removing heavy slush from inside the tunnel. Non-stop rescue work continued overnight. Approximate 120 metres of the tunnel entry has been cleared so far. However, removing the enormous quantity of silt inside the tunnel is making it difficult for the rescue teams to move ahead with speed.
Uttarakhand CM Trivendra Rawat acknowledged that the rescue work is one of the most challenging the world has seen, but said he was hopeful that everyone inside the tunnel would be pulled out alive.
In an exclusive interaction with India TV, Rawat said that rescue teams are fighting adverse conditions inside the tunnel. "There is mud flowing inside the tunnel from the other side as the teams keep clearing the way. But we are hopeful of reaching those inside soon," Rawat said.
No Glacier Burst
Explaining the reason behind the devastation, CM Rawat dismissed reports of a glacier burst. He said satellite images have confirmed that there was no glacier in the higher reaches of the valley.
"Scientists have scanned the satellite images and confirmed that there was no glacier burst. Infact, there is no glacier. There was heavy snowfall in the region on February 3-5. Heavy rocks from the mountains broke off under pressure from heavy layers of snow. The huge boulders then fell into the river which triggered the flash flood," CM Rawat said.
Tapovan power project helped in controlling the damage
Responding to allegations that the tragedy was due to rapid exploitation of natural resources in the region, CM Rawat asserted that the Tapovan power helped lessen the impact of the flash flood.
"Tapovan power project's barrage helped in controlling the impact of the flash flood to a large extent. The barrage gates have been broken but the pillars are intact. This barrage actually controlled the intensity of water which prevented greater loss downstream," the Uttarakhand CM said.
"There has to be a balance between environment and development. We are keeping a close watch on ecological developments and our focus is now on taking action in advance to prevent greater damage. Minimising the rescue time is very important... first 72 hours are very crucial," he added.