Joshimath/ Dehradun: The death toll from the Uttarakhand glacier disaster rose to 28 with the recovery of two more bodies. A multi-agency operation continued Tuesday to rescue around 30 workers feared trapped inside a swamped tunnel at the Tapovan power project in Chamoli district, officials said. Around 170 people are still missing after the Sunday’s disaster apparently caused by a glacier burst, according to the latest data.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said its personnel recovered two bodies from debris in Raini village Tuesday morning.
The workers have been trapped in the 12-foot-high and about 2.5-km-long ‘head race tunnel’ (HRT). “Clearing of debris and slush continued the whole night. About 120 metres of the tunnel entrance stretch is now clear,” ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said in Delhi. “Height of accumulated slush reduced more. ITBP personnel are waiting to enter as soon as any movement deep inside the tunnel is possible,” he added.
A senior official, however, said the rescuers have not been able to make any contact with those stuck inside. However, they are hopeful for ‘signs of life’.
Relief is also being distributed by helicopters among residents of more than a dozen villages. The residents have been cut off due to the washing away of a bridge in the avalanche at Malari.
Private and IAF helicopters have so far distributed around 100 ration kits in the affected areas of 13 villages. The villages have a total population of around 2,500, officials said.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat undertook Tuesday an aerial survey of the affected areas. He also visited the ITBP hospital in Joshimath and met the 12 workers who were rescued Sunday evening from a small tunnel in Tapovan.
Talking to reporters, Rawat said the priority is to get to those trapped inside the tunnel and save as many lives as possible.
Additional heavy machines could be pressed into service to expedite the process of clearing tonnes of debris inside the tunnel. It is blocking the path of rescue personnel.
Personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, NDRF, state disaster response force and the Army have been toiling with heavy earth-moving equipment since Sunday night to clear the tunnel and rescue those trapped.
As the temperature dipped to freezing levels, bonfires were lit at multiple locations to keep the rescuers warm.
The about 1,500-metre tunnel has become the focal point of rescue operations in this disaster that appears to have been triggered after a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier possibly burst through its banks in Chamoli district Sunday, leading to an avalanche and a deluge that ripped through the Alaknanda river system in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalayas.