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No power, no water, little ration — 3 days on, ground zero of Chamoli floods remains cut off

Paing and nearly a dozen other villages were cut off from the rest of Chamoli in Uttarakhand after flash floods struck Sunday morning.

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Chamoli: “It sounded like a bomb exploding” — this is how residents of Uttarakhand’s Paing village in Chamoli district described the moments before an avalanche hit the nearby Ronti peak Sunday.

Within minutes, the debris had descended upon the Rishi Ganga and the Dhauliganga rivers, engulfing the gorge, damaging two power plants, a bridge and burying hundreds of people in its wake.

In a video circulating on social media, the residents were seen gathering in the centre of the village. “We had gone to tend to our field, where we heard something like a bomb exploding. When we went up to the village we saw water gushing out of the mountain,” an elderly woman is heard saying in the video against a background with the two peaks.

The flash floods cut off Paing, along with a dozen other villages, from the rest of Chamoli. This disrupted the supply of electricity and water to Paing. Three days on, the situation remains much the same. 

People who spoke to their relatives in the villages in the immediate aftermath of the disaster say the residents are now unreachable as their phones have run out of battery. Rations have, however, begun to reach them through Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel who are walking several kilometres to carry food supplies — as well as lanterns — to the villages.

“Our village is where the glacial rock fell, when it came there was a lot of dust and we were just left shocked, we didn’t understand what was happening… neither can we go there, nor can anyone come here,” said Pushpa Devi, a Paing resident who has been stranded in Raini village.

Also read: 197 people missing, 20 dead in Uttarakhand floods, Amit Shah tells Rajya Sabha

‘We’re still afraid’

Pushpa Devi, Bhagwanti and Hira Rana have been unable to go home to their village in Paing since the sudden deluge struck the area Sunday morning. The three work as Anganwadi and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers and were visiting Raini to assist the polio drive.

“We got to know about the incident at 10.30 am, the people of our village sent us a video… our village is surrounded by cliffs, so everyone was afraid of what will happen,” Pushpa Devi told ThePrint in Raini.

Located at a height of 200 metres above the river, the village of Paing Chak Lata was among the first in the Rishi Ganga valley stretch to feel the impact of the flash floods.

Surendra Singh Rana, Pushpa Devi’s husband who had accompanied her to Raini, said when “the storm landed”, all the villagers thought that Paing would be hit. “Around 150 metres away from our village, there’s a cliff. My family thought that the deluge would wash away all the villages along this side,” he said.

As the avalanche cut access to the village, the residents were unable to escape to higher ground.

“There’s no way to go in and out, the roads have been cut off. Today, the ITBP jawans went 4 km on foot to deliver rations, we were told that they were also given lanterns. There’s a lot of danger to our village, a lake has also formed in the river bed because of the fallen rocks and trees,” Rana said.

Hira Rana added, “Because of the roads being blocked there is no water or electricity, no way to contact them.”

Rudrama Devi shows a photo of her son, who was working in the devastated NTPC power plant, in Raini. | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ ThePrint
Rudrama Devi shows a photo of her son, who was working at the devastated NTPC power plant, in Raini. | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht/ ThePrint

Also read: Why NTPC, a thermal power firm, is building hydro projects in the Himalayas

‘The company drowned before my eyes’

Meanwhile, villagers at Raini, a few metres away from the Rishi Ganga Hydropower Project that was decimated by the deluge, remain in disbelief. “It’s been 57 years but I’ve never seen something like this. Those who are elder to me also haven’t witnessed anything like it,” said Dharwan Rana.

Like the Paing villagers, Dharwan heard the sound of rocks falling from the peak. “I was inside my house and got out when I saw the glacier coming from there,” he said. His first instinct was to scream and alert the workers of the hydropower project.

NDRF team at the Uttarakhand flood site | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
NDRF team conducts rescue operations at one of the sites affected by the Uttarakhand flash floods | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

The project site comprised a sprawling building complex and a bridge that had been built across the river. While a section of the workers were inside the building, several had been working on the bridge. “But by the time the deluge came with full force, the workers were unable to escape and the whole building collapsed,” Dharwan said.

“The company drowned in front of my eyes, and after that the bridge broke,” said Bhawan Rana, the village head man. At least 50 people were buried at the hydropower dam site, four of whose bodies were recovered in the rescue operations Tuesday, NDRF Commandant P.K. Tiwari told ThePrint.

“Today no one is here in the village, everyone has gone 3 km up and is sleeping in a place without a roof and are just surviving with the help of a fire because they fear that something might happen to this place,” he said.

According to Bhawan, over five residents, including one who had been working at the project site, have been missing since Sunday. Unable to cope with the loss of their loved ones, the villagers are now on the lookout for any untoward signs that the rocks might give way once again.

“Last night, I went to see it three times and out here, the river had completely stopped. I had told the ITBP team that water had completely stopped here and told others as well, who assured us that nothing is wrong and the waters just freeze at night,” Bhawan said. “But we know that rivers can’t die like this.” 

Also read: ‘Company people said run or you’ll die’ — NTPC worker recalls fleeing Uttarakhand flood


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