Rescuers Search For 125 Missing After Uttarakhand Glacier Burst
Feb 8, 2021 | Pratirodh Bureau
Members of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police search for survivors after a Himalayan glacier broke and swept away a small hydroelectric dam, in Chormi village in Tapovan, Uttarakhand on February 7, 2021
Hundreds of military personnel were deployed in the Himalayas on Monday to help find at least 125 people unaccounted for after a part of a glacier broke away, setting off a torrent of water, rock and dust down a mountain valley.
Sunday’s violent surge swept away a small hydro electric project called Rishiganga and damaged a bigger one further downstream.
Most of the missing were people working on the two projects, one of the many the government has been building deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand as part of a development push.
Rescue workers were focused on a 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long tunnel where workers were believed trapped.
Vivek Pandey, a spokesman of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force, said 30-35 workers were believed to be inside the tunnel and that rescuers were trying to open its mouth and get inside.
There had been no voice contact yet with anyone in the tunnel, another official said.
On Sunday, 12 people were rescued from another tunnel.
Videos on social media showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment and bringing down small bridges.
“Everything was swept away, people, cattle and trees,” Sangram Singh Rawat, a former village council member of Raini, the site closest to the glacier, told local media.
Some 400 soldiers have been deployed to the site in the remote mountains, state authorities said.
“We expect to carry on operations for the next 24 to 48 hours, ” said Satya Pradhan, the chief of the National Disaster Response Force.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said 125 people were missing but the number could rise. So far, the bodies of seven people had been recovered.
The disaster took place around 500 km (310 miles) north of New Delhi.
Uttarakhand is prone to flash floods and landslides and the disaster prompted calls by environment groups for a review of power projects in the ecologically sensitive mountains.
Earlier, state chief secretary Om Prakash said 100 to 150 people were feared dead. A large number of the missing were workers at the 13.2 MW Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project which was destroyed by the bursting of the glacier.
State utility NTPC said the avalanche had damaged a part of its Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower plant that was under construction further down the river. It gave no details but said the situation is being monitored continuously.
Military helicopters were flying over the area and soldiers deployed for help with relief and rescue.
The neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous, put its riverside areas on high alert.
It was not immediately clear what had set off the avalanche at a time when it is not the flood season. In June 2013, record monsoon rains in Uttarakhand caused devastating floods that claimed close to 6,000 lives.
That disaster was dubbed the “Himalayan tsunami” because of the torrents of water unleashed in the mountainous area, which sent mud and rocks crashing down, burying homes, sweeping away buildings, roads and bridges.
Environmental experts called for a halt to big hydroelectric projects in the state.
“This disaster again calls for a serious scrutiny of the hydropower dams building spree in this eco-sensitive region,” said Ranjan Panda, a volunteer for the Combat Climate Change Network that works on water, environment and climate change issues.
“The government should no longer ignore warnings from experts and stop building hydropower projects and extensive highway networks in this fragile ecosystem.”