Raini (Uttarakhand): The families of workers missing from the Rishiganga hydel project site created a ruckus here on Wednesday accusing the authorities of not carrying out the rescue operations properly after the sudden flood in the Alaknanda river system wreaked havoc.
The kin of around 40 missing workers engaged in a heated argument with the authorities of the project for two hours, alleging lack of urgency in the rescue work.
"It is four days since the tragedy occurred but all the focus is on restoring connectivity. Rescuing the missing people does not seem to be the priority," alleged a man from Punjab, whose brother Jugal worked at the Rishiganga hydel project.
"Jugal's phone rings when his number is dialled," he said.
Rishiganga project manager Kamal Chauhan, who had to face the wrath of the families, said his help was not being taken by the administration to locate the missing.
The death toll in the disaster was 32 as on Tuesday with six more bodies being recovered during the day, officials had said as multiple agencies raced against time to reach the workers trapped inside a tunnel at the power project site and 174 people remained missing.
The missing people include those working at NTPC's 480-MW Tapovan-Vishnugad project and the 13.2-MW Rishiganga Hydel Project and villagers whose homes nearby were washed away.
Drones and More Deployed to Locate Trapped Workers
Using drones and remote-sensing equipment, rescue teams intensified efforts on Wednesday to reach the 25-35 men trapped in a sludge-choked tunnel since the Uttarakhand glacier disaster three days ago and more than 170 remained missing, hopes of finding them alive fading with every passing hour.
The multi-agency rescue operation at the NTPC hydel project site has been going on uninterrupted since Sunday, when a possible glacier break in the upper reaches of the Himalayas triggered an avalanche and floods in the Alaknanda river system, with no breakthrough in sight, officials said.
So far, 32 bodies have been recovered from different places in the disaster-hit areas of Chamoli district. Eight bodies have been identified and 174 people are still missing, the State Emergency Control Centre in Dehradun said.
A focal point of the rescue work has been efforts to penetrate through tonnes of silt, sludge and debris to get to the 25-35 people, who were at work inside the 1,500 metre tunnel at Tapovan when the waters came rushing in.
"All strategies at the moment are focussed on rescuing those trapped inside the tunnel with the help of all the resources at our disposal, including drones and remote-sensing equipment," Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Nilesh Anand Bharne, Uttarakhand Police chief spokesperson, told PTI at Tapovan.
Drilling through the debris has become more difficult with the silt inside the tunnel drying up and getting harder, he said.
Rescue teams have so far managed to progress 80 metres inside the tunnel and have to make their way through tonnes of debris for at least 100 metres more to reach those trapped inside, the DIG added.
The complicated design of the tunnel is making the task even more difficult, prompting the rescue teams to consult NTPC officials.
More than 600 Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel are engaged in the search-and-rescue operations.
Several measures, including drilling holes to take oxygen to the men inside the tunnel, are also being contemplated, added project consultant A K Shrivastava.
The multi-agency group of rescuers flew a camera-equipped drone inside the Tapovan tunnel on Tuesday but could not pinpoint the location of survivors or the way forward due to darkness, a senior National Disaster Response Force officer said.
"We are still hopeful. The teams will continue making attempts, clearing the slush to enter deeper into the tunnel and locate the trapped," he said.
"Heavy machines have removed more slush from the tunnel the whole night. A joint team of ITBP, NDRF, SDRF and sister agencies entered the tunnel this morning... more slush and water coming from inside the tunnel is making the way ahead difficult," ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said in the national capital.
The ITBP has deployed a team of about 450 personnel apart from those from the NDRF, state disaster response force and the Army.
The villages that lost road connectivity in the wake of the calamity are Raini Palli, Pang, Lata, Suraithota, Suki, Bhalgaon, Tolma, Fagrasu, Long Segdi, Gahar, Bhangyul, Juwagwad and Jugju.
Relief is being distributed by helicopters among villagers cut off due to the washing away of a bridge in the avalanche at Malari. The total population of these villages is around 2,500, officials said on Tuesday.
"The event happened in a hanging glacier, adjacent to Raunthi glacier, which originates from Raunthi/Mrigudhani peak (6,063 metres above sea level)," Kalachand Sain, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, said.
A hanging glacier is a body of ice that breaks off abruptly at the edge of a precipice or steep slope.
The observations also suggest that rock mass weakened over a period of time due to freezing and thawing of snow. This must have led to the creation of a "weak zone", triggering its collapse, which resulted in the formation of a temporary dam that eventually breached, causing the floods.