Chamoli: Mangre, a labourer from Lakhimpur in Uttar Pradesh, was present at the under-construction National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) project in Uttarakhand’s Tapovan, when it was struck by flood waters Sunday.
“At 10.20 am, the deluge suddenly came here at the turning and we started running away,” Mangre told ThePrint Monday. “The company people said ‘run away or else you will die’.”
According to Mangre, he was able to climb from the barrage, and atop a hill, using a cable rope. He is safe now, but Mangre can’t shake off the fear. “I am not able to find my fellow labourers, we will have to find them,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do.”
An estimated 150 labourers working at the site were washed away by the sudden deluge in the Dhauliganga and Alaknanda rivers that hit Uttarakhand Sunday. Many others were trapped inside a 2.5-km-long tunnel. While 12 labourers were rescued from one end of the tunnel, 34 remained trapped in the other segment as of Monday evening. The project itself now stands covered in slush and debris.
Altogether, 197 people were missing in the state a day after the flash floods, with 26 bodies recovered so far.
Among the missing is Padminder Bisht, a supervisor at the site who was inside the tunnel Sunday morning and has yet to be found. His sister Sati Negi, 34, has been waiting a short distance from the tunnel, desperate for news about his whereabouts.
“My brother was working here for the last 7 years,” she said. “Since the tragedy happened, I’ve been waiting here and the authorities have not helped at all.”
Sohan Lal, 37, a worker at the plant, was on a visit back home in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district Sunday. A day later, he is searching for his nephew and two brothers, who also worked at the site.
“The authorities haven’t told us anything, about what to do, what not to,” he said, now back at the site. “We haven’t spoken to anyone. We’re just thinking that someone should clean this (the waters near the barrage where his family members were working). Someone should give us some information and advice,” he added.
‘It may take one or two days’
Rescue operations are in full swing in Uttarakhand, led by teams of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the Army.
Three JCB machines are stationed near the tunnel, taking turns to remove slush from its depths to find the trapped labourers. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat visited the site Monday.
“The work is under progress. Machines are taking the slush out of the tunnel… Right now, the machine has taken out debris from 100 m of this tunnel. After 180 m, there is a bifurcation in the tunnel on the right side. That is our only chance,” said ITBP Deputy Commandant Nitesh Sharma. “After that, if the debris is not there, we will be able to track them.”
According to ITBP officials, among the early responders, the 34 people trapped are in the “bifurcated” part of the tunnel and attempts are being made to reach this point.
So far, no contact has been made with those stranded inside. The 12 workers rescued were trapped at the other end of the tunnel. Talking about the rescue operation, Sharma, who led the team, said, “We got information that around 12 to 16 personnel are trapped inside a second tunnel, which is around 1.5 km in length.
“I had the first battalion ready with me, we went to that location and dug that area. The tunnel was filled with slush. So, we dug it and took out everyone. All were safe, but they were frozen and very afraid,” Sharma added. “When they saw us, they were relieved.”
Sharma said the team could locate the 12 people since one of them managed to establish contact through a phone.
But the situation in the other part of the tunnel is different, Sharma added, since they haven’t been able to locate where the workers are stranded. “It may take one or more days,” he said.