Hunt for 37 trapped in India glacier flood

Biswajeet Banerjee and Rishabh R Jain
·2-min read

Rescuers in northern India are working to rescue more than three dozen power plant workers trapped in a tunnel after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off and sent a wall of water and debris rushing down the mountain.

More than 2000 members of the military, paramilitary groups and police have been taking part in search-and-rescue operations in the northern state of Uttarakhand after Sunday's disaster, which has killed at least 18 people, left about 165 others missing and damaged dams and homes downstream.

Officials said the focus was on saving 37 workers who are stuck inside a tunnel at one of the affected hydropower plants. Excavators were brought in to help with the efforts.

"The tunnel is filled with debris, which has come from the river. We are using machines to clear the way," said H Gurung, a senior official of the paramilitary Indo Tibetan Border Police.

The flood was caused when a portion of Nanda Devi glacier snapped off Sunday morning, releasing water trapped behind it, a disaster experts said could be linked to global warming.

The floodwater rushed down the mountain and into other bodies of water, forcing the evacuation of many villages along the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers.

Video from India's northern state of Uttarakhand showed the muddy, concrete-grey floodwaters tumbling through a valley and surging into a dam, breaking it into pieces with little resistance before roaring on downstream.

A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed, and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, an Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesman.

Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.

The trapped workers were at the Dhauliganga plant, where on Sunday 12 workers were rescued from a separate tunnel.

A senior government official told The Associated Press they did not know the total number of people who were working in the Dhauliganga project.

Pandey said Sunday that 165 workers at the two plants were missing. Surjeet Singh, a police official, said at least 18 bodies were recovered.

One of the rescued workers, Rakesh Bhatt, told The Associated Press said they were working in the tunnel when water rushed in.

"We thought it might be rain and that the water will recede. But when we saw mud and debris enter with great speed, we realised something big had happened," he said.

Bhatt said one of the workers was able to contact officials via his mobile phone.

"We waited for almost six hours - praying to God and joking with each other to keep our spirits high. I was the first to be rescued and it was a great relief," he said.

The Himalayan area where Sunday's flood struck has a chain of hydropower projects on several rivers and their tributaries.

The floodwaters also damaged homes but details on the number and whether any residents were injured, missing or dead remained unclear.