Rescuers have pulled out seven bodies from a tunnel while at least 125 people are still missing or "feared dead" as a sudden flood inundated a power project at Reni village in the Joshimath area of Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on Sunday. The flood in the Alaknanda river system and a massive avalanche was triggered by a glacier burst, the ITBP, which is engaged in rescue and relief operations there, said.
Varying reports on number of missing persons
Citing updated inputs received from local administration, ITBP spokesperson Vivek Pandey told news agency IANS that at least 10 bodies have been recovered so far from the spot, and several people have been rescued, while that there is no information about other persons.
In its initial information received from the spot, the ITBP had, through a statement, said that "more than 100 labourers at the barrage and 50 plus in the tunnel lost their life as per the incharge of Tapovan NTPC work site... As many as 150 people are missing".
Clarifying these inputs, Pandey said: "As 150 people are still missing, it is difficult to say that all are dead. They can be said 'feared dead' or 'missing'. Missing persons cannot be declared dead till seven years."
Meanwhile, news agency PTI reported that rescuers have pulled out seven bodies from a tunnel while at least 125 people are still missing.
On the other hand, the State Disaster Management Center has reportedly updated that seven people have died, while six are injured and around 170 are missing after the flood incident today.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has said that the numbers could be higher and announced a compensation of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the "massive disaster".
Seven bodies have been recovered from one of the tunnels in Tapovan and a search for the rest of the missing people is underway by ITBP and SDRF personnel, Rawat said here on his return from a visit to the affected areas.
Rawat said at least 125 people including two policemen were missing and the numbers could be higher as authorities of the damaged hydel projects are not in a position to give a precise figure.
What caused the Himalayan tragedy?
The tragedy took place after the water level in Dhauliganga river, one of the six sources of the Ganga river, suddenly surged on Sunday morning following an avalanche near the Rishi Ganga power project. The 85 km river meets the Alaknanda river at Vishnuprayag at the base of Joshimath mountain.
The ITBP said that the flash flood occurred in Rishi Ganga at around 10.45 a.m. due to a glacier falling into it and exponentially increasing the volume of water.
Due to this, the Rishi Ganga hydro project was completely devastated, it said.
In addition to the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project, another power project - NTPC's Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project -- was also extensively damaged with scores of labourers trapped in tunnels as the waters and sludge came rushing in.
One motorable road and four suspension bridges connecting 7-8 villages in the area with the district headquarters have also been washed away by the avalanche.
The disconnected villages include Gahar, Bhangyun, Raini Palli, Pang Lata, Suraithota, Tolma and Fagrasu.
"The BRO bridge on Joshimath highway was also completely washed away. There were six graziers with their livestock there and they were also swept away by the flash flood," the ITBP said.
"Rishiganga meets Dhauliganga near Reni village. So Dhauliganga also got flooded. Five to six houses of the village were also washed away. An NTPC project on river Dhauliganga near Tapovan was completely devastated. Two 'Jhula' bridges connecting villages on the other side of the river were also washed away," the security personnel detailed.
All efforts are focused at the moment to pull out those feared trapped inside the other tunnels that are clogged with 35-40 feet of debris, Rawat said.
Around 250 personnel of ITBP are carrying out rescue and search operations on the site. The paramilitary force said connectivity of its Border Outposts was totally restricted due to the bridge destruction near Reni village.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the National Disaster Response Force personnel have penetrated up to 150 metres into the 250-metre-long tunnel but they have not been able to contact any of the trapped employees or workmen.
The extent of damage to the two hydel projects is being assessed by their management.
Impact of disaster
Chief Minister Rawat is personally taking stock of the situation and supervising rescue and relief operations. He said that arrangements have been made to continue uninterrupted supplies of essentials to villages which have been cut off.
Chamoli District Magistrate Swati S Bhadoriya and Superintendent of Police P Yashwant Singh Chauhan are camping at the site, the chief minister said.
There are 17 gram sabha areas affected by the avalanche, out of which 11 are inhabited while the residents of the rest had moved to lower areas during the winter, Rawat said.
All arrangements are in place to deal with any eventuality including IAF and private helicopters which are on stand-by.
Though the impact of the disaster may not be felt in Rishikesh and Haridwar, the temple towns have been put on alert.
A government spokesman said that there was not much human habitation at the site where the glacier broke apart, but a number of power projects have been hit.
However, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) maintains that Sunday's flooding is not "as big as" the 2013 Kedarnath calamity. Even so, the government has appealed to the people not to venture near the Ganga river.
Dispatch from Centre
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have spoken to the Chief Minister to take stock of the situation in the state.
The Prime Minister, during his Assam tour, reviewed the situation in Uttarakhand during a telephonic conversation with Rawat and other top officials, and the rescue and relief work underway.
The Prime Minister, in a tweet, said that he is 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."
Meanwhile, Home Minister Shah also spoke to Rawat and Into-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Director General S.S. Deswal.
Shah said that four National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams are being airlifted to Dehradun to reach Joshimath.
US, France convey thoughts and prayers
French president Emmanuel Macron conveyed his country's solidarity with India over the Himalayan avalanche tragedy, and prayed for the kin of those unaccounted for in the incident.
"France expresses its full solidarity with India, after a glacier burst in the Uttarakhand province, leading to the disappearance of over 100 people. Our thoughts are with them and their families," Emmanuel Macron said.
Meanwhile, the United States of America has also conveyed its grief over the incident and extended hopes for recovery.
"Our deepest condolences to those affected by the glacier burst and landslide in India. We grieve with the family and friends of the deceased and extend our hopes for a speedy and full recovery for the injured," the US state department said.
(With inputs from agencies)