Disasters & Accidents

‘It is a mess’: Slow rescue frustrates families of missing in India avalanche

New Delhi, Feb 10 (efe-epa).- The search continued without any progress on Wednesday for dozens of people trapped inside a tunnel deluged with slush, four days after a devastating avalanche crashed into a Himalayan valley in north India that left hundreds missing.

Families were left frustrated in the interminable wait to hear about their loved ones even as authorities claimed that the rescue and relief work went “on fast pace” in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand after Sunday’s tragedy.

The disaster was triggered by a pile of freshly-accumulated snow that collapsed into a ridge area, bringing columns of mud and rocks downstream.

According to the latest government figures, the authorities have found 32 bodies from among more than 200 people who went missing after a deluge of water and debris crashed downstream and damaged two hydropower plants in Chamoli district about 280 km (nearly 175 miles) east of the state capital of Dehradun.

Others, meanwhile, continue to remain unaccounted for, throwing the desperate families into helplessness.

Rescuers, using earthmovers and pile drivers, have been trying to reach out to an estimated 35 people trapped inside a 2.5-km-long tunnel of the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project of the state-run power company NTPC.

The headrace tunnel that carries water to the power generators is now filled with slush carried by the floodwater.

Sanjay Prasad, whose 24-year-old brother was working as an electrician with the power project and is now trapped inside the tunnel, lamented the lack of coordination among the agencies involved in the operation.

“The rescue operation has been clumsy at the best. It is the fourth day today and the condition of those trapped inside the tunnel can be anyone’s guess,” Prasad told EFE.

Prasad said the rescuers seemed to be “clueless” and “nobody knows what to do.”

He alleged that the authorities were not using advanced equipment to dig and make way into the blocked tunnel.

He said the number of trapped persons inside the tunnel was also not known with certainty since an unaccounted number of laborers come for work daily to work on the hydroelectric projects in the area.

“Our guess is there could be around 100-150 people inside the tunnel. Usually, they don’t keep the record of daily laborers,” he said, noting the official estimate of 35 people trapped came from the records of the project management.

“How many actually went (to work) inside the tunnel on Sunday morning would have been known from a registry at the gates of the tunnel. That has been washed away,” he said.

He remarked that the only thing happening smoothly at the rescue site was “politicians and officials giving media bytes and making the best out of photo ops.”

“It is hampering whatever little is being done to rescue the trapped. They fly down in choppers, look around, speak to the media and run away. This is all a mess.”

Families also expressed grave concerns about the oxygen levels inside the tunnel.

Vijendra Singh’s ordeal is equally trying as he awaits news of two of his missing relatives.

His uncle Harish, 50, could be trapped in the tunnel, while another relative, Pankaj Singh, 42, was swept away by floods from the avalanche.

Singh says they were “in the dark” regarding any progress made by rescuers.

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