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Massive rescue operation launched to evacuate trapped workers from Tapovan tunnel

The rescue team has so far recovered 20 bodies and was successful in evacuating 12 persons trapped in a tunnel.

RAJU GUSAIN | Dehradun |

Massive search and rescue operation was launched to save trapped workers from the Tapovan tunnel in Chamoli on Monday. The Uttarakhand government has officially confirmed that 197 workers remain missing in the flash flood.

The rescue team has so far recovered 20 bodies and was successful in evacuating 12 persons trapped in a tunnel.

A big rescue team, involving Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Army, SSB, State Disaster Response Force and National Disaster Response Force, are working day and night to find trapped workers.

A flash flood in the Rishiganga river created havoc near Reni village in district Chamoli on Sunday. The Rishiganga and Tapovan power projects were badly affected by the disaster. Providing a new theory on the flash flood, the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS)(a constituent unit of Indian Space Research Organisation) claims that the flash flood took place after a landslide triggered a snow avalanche. The institute rejects the earlier theory of the disaster taking place due to glacier burst.

The Dehradun based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing used two images one of 6 February and other of 7 February – to state, “It has been observed from the satellite data of 7 February 2021 in the catchment of the Rishiganga at the terminus of the glacier at an altitude of 5,600 Mts, a landslide triggered a snow avalanche covering 14 sq. km and causing a flash flood in the downstream of the Rishiganga.”

The IIRS finding estimates that the flash flood has generated 2-3 million cubic meter of water in a short span. The entire focus of the teams involved in search and rescue operations since Sunday is to rescue trapped workers from the two tunnels at Tapovan.

An ITBP team saved the lives of a dozen workers, who were stuck in a tunnel. Excavators were used to clear the slush and debris inside the other tunnel and the operation continued for the second successive day.

Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said, “I am leaving for Joshimath and will spend the night there. Tomorrow I plan to visit the affected areas and will also meet people. Our relief and rescue operations are continuing in full swing and we are doing best to save lives.”

A joint team of the ITBP, Army, SDRF, SSB and NDRF were involved in clearing debris from the Tapovan tunnel. The team has cleared debris from 90 Mts patch and the target is to remove the remaining 50 Mts stretch to reach a junction of the tunnel. It is assumed that 30 to 35 persons are trapped in the tunnel.

Uttarakhand Police’s DGP Ashok Kumar, “We are involved in the search and rescue work and presently operation to clear debris from the Tapovan tunnel is underway. We are supplying relief material to affected villages~ which lost their connecting road as their bridges were swept away in the flash flood.”

About a dozen villages’ remains cut off from the rest of the world after losing the bridges. The Uttarakhand government used choppers to supply rations in the affected areas. Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Raj Kumar Singh and Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank toured the affected area on Monday.