New Delhi, Feb 9 (efe-epa).- Families of people still missing after a Himalayan disaster that killed 32 in northern India were on Tuesday facing an unbearable wait to see if their loved ones were still alive.
Nearly 200 are still unaccounted for after the avalanche hit the mountainous state of Uttarakhand on Sunday, according to the government.
“(Some)197 people (are) missing. 32 bodies recovered so far from various locations,” the state-run Press Information Bureau said in a tweet.
Federal Home Minister Amit Shah told the parliament the rescue operation was “going on war footing and all out efforts are simultaneously being made for searching missing persons.”
Most of the missing were laborers working with power projects that the government is constructing or has already built for development in the mountainous and ecologically fragile state near the border with China.
Amrita Devi, an 80-year-old farm worker, had gone to tend to her field near a bridge on Rishi Ganga river in Raini Chak village, one of the worst-hit areas by the flash floods.
Her son and a sister-in-law were with her for fieldwork on Sunday morning when they suddenly heard a loud boom before a mountain of water and sludge came hurtling towards them, Mohan Singh, Devi’s nephew, told EFE.
Since then, it has been an agonizing wait for the family to hear about the woman who “is old enough to run for safety while the other two managed to reach home,” he said.
Mohan Singh said their “hopes about finding her alive diminish with every second of delay.”
He said at least 70 people, mostly laborers from Nepal who were working in the Rishi Ganga hydel project – damaged in the avalanche -, were missing from the area.
Bodies of five locals have been recovered and a Nepalese laborer was also found dead from the area.
He said it would be difficult to know the exact number of casualties because the migrant laborers in the power project were employed by contractors on a daily or weekly basis.
“Mostly, it so happens that even the contractors who employ them for construction works won’t know their identity. You may never know some of those who will never return. And that is quite possible in a situation like this.”
Chamoli district authorities said they had installed a zipline over a broken bridge for relief workers to reach the cut-off areas for ration supplies while emergency cases were being attended to with help of choppers.
The disaster in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district occurred on the Nanda Devi mountain, which houses a big glacier with the same name.
The deluge of gushing mud, water, and rocks damaged at least two under-construction power plants.
Within moments, the entire downhill area got submerged in floodwater that gushed down the mountain streams, prompting thousands to evacuate.
The Himalayan disaster was earlier thought to have been caused by a glacier rupture.
However, Santosh Kumar Rai, a geologist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in the state capital Dehradun, said on Tuesday it may have been caused by a landslide as suggested by satellite imagery.
The images captured before and after the disaster indicate that the massive flooding was triggered by a pile of freshly-accumulated snow that collapsed into a ridge area, bringing columns of mud and rocks downstream.