At least seven persons were killed and over one hundred and fifty workers of two power projects are missing after a glacier burst, causing an avalanche and creating flooding in river Rishiganga in district Chamoli on Sunday. The flooding caused massive damage to the under-construction Rishiganga and Tapovan hydro projects. The toll could go higher, with the Uttarakhand chief minister saying that 30 persons were working at the Rishiganga power project site and 176 others at the Tapovan project site.
A high alert was sounded in villages and towns located on the bank of the Ganga river in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Many workers engaged in the power projects were trapped in tunnels. Sixteen trapped workers were rescued from a tunnel at Tapovan by late evening. The process of evacuating workers from another tunnel was underway. ITBP teams conducted the rescue operation in the tunnel to evacuate the trapped labourers.
The disaster hit the remote location of district Chamoli at about 10.45 a.m on Sunday. A portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off, triggering an avalanche and flooding in the Alaknanda river system, which comprises the Dhauliganga, Rishiganga and Alaknanda rivers.
Authorities said the 13.2 MW small hydro project on the Rishiganga river was swept away in the glacier burst. Homes along the river banks were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountainsides in a raging torrent.
As the disaster hit the valley, the state government launched a massive search and rescue operation. Teams of the State Disaster Relief Force and National Disaster Relief Force were dispatched to the affected area. People living on river banks were shifted to safer locations. A high alert was sounded in downstream towns like Nandprayag, Karanprayag, Ruderprayag, Srinagar, Rishikesh, Haridwar, etc.
Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said, “Six hundred personnel from Army and ITBP are on standby for dealing with the emerging situation. All the rescue teams are doing their best to save the lives of missing workers at NTPC and Rishiganga sites.”
In his interaction with the media in Dehradun after returning from Chamoli, the CM said that 30 persons were at work at the Rishiganga hydro-electric project and 176 others at the NTPC’s Tapovan– Vishnugad project site when the disaster occurred.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the Uttarakhand chief minister and reviewed the situation in Chamoli.
In a tweet, Mr Modi said: “Am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand. India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there. Have been continuously speaking to senior authorities and getting updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work and relief operations.”
Videos of the water rushing downstream, taken with smart phone by villagers, instantly became viral on social media. The videos also prompted people living on river banks downstream to move to safer locations.
The water level returned to normal after about six hours of the disaster.
Uttarakhand Police DGP Ashok Kumar said, “The situation is under control. The water has reached Srinagar and its level is stable and there is no danger of flooding taking place downstream.”
Uttarakhand chief minister Rawat visited the affected area and inspected the disaster site. The CM, who is said to have initially got information about the disaster through social media, interacted with workers and local people.
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, held an emergency meeting in New Delhi in the evening in the wake of the disaster.