About 26 dead bodies have been recovered while 171 people are still missing after an apparent glacier burst in Uttarakhand. Multiple agencies are working in an overnight operation to rescue others who are still trapped. Officials at the State Emergency Operation Centre reported the recovery of more bodies and feared the death toll would rise, a day after a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier possibly burst through its banks in Chamoli district. It appeared to have triggered an avalanche and a deluge that ripped through the Alaknanda river system in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalayas. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured a delegation of Uttarakhand MPs of his government’s support to the people of the state and said it is working to strengthen infrastructure there to deal with any natural disaster in future.
Experts determining exact cause
Experts are still trying to determine the exact cause of the disaster in Joshimath. "It was due to lakhs of metric tonnes of snow sliding down abruptly from a trigger point on top of a naked hill," Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat told reporters after meeting ISRO scientists. After a comprehensive analysis is undertaken to find out the reasons, "we will build an elaborate plan to avert any potential tragedy going forward", he said in an interview to PTI.
Global warming or maybe a Western disturbance bringing fresh snow that melted could have triggered the deluge, experts said. The Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation is among those investigating the disaster. It is not clear whether the flood was a typical Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) or some temporary damming due to a landslide and avalanche that might have blocked the mainstream to form a temporary lake which burst, said Ranjit Rath, director general of the Geological Survey of India (GSI).
Rescue operations continue
Officials said the missing people include those working at the hydel power project sites and villagers whose homes nearby were washed away. Two power projects – NTPC’s 480 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad project and the 13.2 MW Rishiganga Hydel Project – were extensively damaged with scores of labourers caught in tunnels as the waters came rushing in. Thirteen villages are cut off due to the damage to roads and bridges, Uttarakhand Director General of Police Ashok Kumar said. Essential food supplies are being sent there by helicopters.
Rescue efforts in the affected areas near Joshimath, about 295 km from here, gained momentum with teams of the Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) coordinating to rescue 30-35 people feared trapped in a tunnel at the Tapovan-Vishnugad project. More teams have been sent to the site on Mi-17 helicopters that landed at the helipad in Joshimath. Some teams from the Army, including from the Medical Corps, also reached the disaster spot, an official supervising the operation said. Sniffer dogs and heavy mechanical equipment, including bulldozers and JCBs, were deployed.
Officials said 27 people were rescued alive. Of these, 12 were saved from the smaller of the two tunnels at the Tapovan-Vishnugad project site and 15 from the Rishiganga site.
Uttarakhand Director General of Police Ashok Kumar added that efforts were focused on rescuing 30-35 labourers trapped in a 250-metre tunnel at Tapovan. The work was complicated as the tunnel is slightly curved, making it difficult to clear the debris and silt blocking it. The entire landscape was coloured a sandy grey, many structures swept away and buried under piles of silt. (With PTI inputs)