Uttarakhand flood: Toll climbs to 54; hopes for finding survivors dim after three more bodies found at Tapovan tunnel

Nine bodies have been pulled out from Adit tunnel at the National Thermal Power Corporation's 's Tapovan-Vishnugad project site, choked by debris after the 7 February flash flood

Press Trust of India February 16, 2021 20:34:49 IST
Uttarakhand flood: Toll climbs to 54; hopes for finding survivors dim after three more bodies found at Tapovan tunnel

Search and rescue operations underway at Tapovan tunnel. ANI

Tapovan/Dehradun: Three more bodies were recovered Monday from the Tapovan tunnel, taking the toll in the Uttarakhand flash flood to 54 as hopes of finding survivors there over a week after the disaster dimmed.

Nine bodies have been pulled out from Adit tunnel at the National Thermal Power Corporation's 's Tapovan-Vishnugad project site, choked by debris after the 7 February flash flood which ripped into two hydel plants in the Alaknanda river system.

Apart from the confirmed 54 dead, 150 others are still missing. The multi-agency rescue effort in Chamoli district is focusing on the Tapovan tunnel where about 30 workers were feared trapped. The body of Satypal Singh Bartwal from Masoli village in Chamoli district was among those found in the tunnel on Monday.

"We had hoped Satyapal would return alive. But now we will have to return home with my brother's body. It's unbearable," said his elder brother. His other relatives, who have been camping at Tapovan village since the day the tragedy struck, also broke down after identifying the body.

Officials said the other approach at reaching the trapped workers by widening a hole drilled into the tunnel system does not appear to be working. A camera or tube cannot be inserted as the hole is choked with sludge. Rescuing the trapped people is now possible only with the help of excavators, Chamoli District Magistrate Swati S Bhadauria told PTI.

They continue to dredge out the sludge from the tunnel, making slow progress. Asked about the chances of survival of those missing or trapped, the district magistrate said, "We must always try to be hopeful when the circumstances are adverse." Families of some of the missing people continue their vigil near the tunnel, plucking up the courage to take a look every time a body is brought out. But many are beginning now to return to their homes.

The relatives of Jitendra, a resident of Jammu brought out dead from the tunnel on Sunday, are also packing up to leave. His younger brother Pawan said seven of them had come from Jammu after hearing about the disaster. Jitendra's phone was switched off.

"We had been scouring different areas of Tapovan and Joshimath for four days in search of Jitendra until his body was brought out of the tunnel on Sunday. It's tragic," he said. Alam Singh Pundir's body, the first to be pulled out of the tunnel on Sunday, has also been handed over to his relatives who arrived in Tapovan just a day after the flash flood.

Twenty-nine of the 54 bodies found so far in the tunnel and elsewhere along the river have been identified. Those pulled out from the tunnel so far appear to be of workers who ran towards its mouth in an attempt to get out but got bogged down in the slush that was gushing in, an NTPC officials said.

The father and the father-in-law of Sateshwar Purohit, a resident of Soni village in Chamoli, have not given up hope of seeing their son alive. "We have absolute faith in God. Our son will definitely return," the electrician's father said.

The last rites of those pulled out dead are being carried out after samples are taken for DNA tests to help establish their identities. Kits with foodgrain and other essentials have been distributed among residents of over a dozen villages that were cut off from the district headquarters after the disaster, possibly triggered by an avalanche.

Electricity supply has been restored in all affected villages except Pang, where solar lanterns have been provided to residents for the time being, the district magistrate said. The agencies involved in the Tapovan rescue work include the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force.

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