New Delhi, Feb 8 (efe-epa).- A massive search operation continued on Monday for more than 200 missing people who were feared trapped in the debris of mud and rocks after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off a day ago in a disaster that has claimed at least 19 lives in northern India.
The disaster in the Uttarakhand state’s Chamoli district occurred on Sunday morning when the glacier ruptured, damaging at least two under-construction power plants.
Most of the missing people were workers at the two hydro-power plants, one of many the government has been constructing with private players for the development of the mountainous and ecologically fragile state.
“At least 202 people have been reported missing from the disaster yesterday while 19 bodies have been recovered from various places,” the Uttarakhand police said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
The missing people include nearly 40 workers who were trapped in a tunnel that has been blocked by a massive pile of sludge.
Rescue teams worked through the night in search of the trapped workers after successfully rescuing 12 in another tunnel on Sunday evening.
Union Power Minister RK Singh, who flew into the disaster-hit area, told reporters that some 34 people were trapped inside the tunnel near the government-run Tapovan Vishnugad power plant that has suffered heavy damages.
He said the rescuers had dug up to 70 meters inside the tunnel.
“We have to move further. Communication has not been established yet (with those trapped inside),” the minister said.
Police said the rescuers were making efforts to clear the tunnel with the help of earthmovers and pile drivers.
Venu Dhar, a commanding officer of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), said there were 34 people in one group and five others in another group trapped inside the tunnel.
“So our primary task is to reach the bigger group that is 34 persons, working inside the tunnel,” Dhar told EFE.
The deluge of gushing mud, water, and rocks was caused when a part of the Nanda Devi glacier collapsed.
Within moments, the entire area got submerged in floodwater that gushed down down the mountain streams, shocking the people in the area and prompting thousands to evacuate.
Videos, captured using cellphones and shared on social media of the incident, showed a horrendous sudden surge of a large column of mud and water along a riverbed, gushing through the valley slopes speedily.
A clip showed a column of fast-flowing water mixed with gray concrete slamming into a dam and shredding it into pieces before rumbling downstream.
Mangray, a laborer in his early 20s, said he was there when the disaster hit.
“We were working since morning. It was a cold but calm morning. Around 11 am, it changed all suddenly,” Mangray told EFE, giving only his first name.
Narrating a tale of “horror and my miraculous escape”, he recalled that “there was a roar, a sudden burst. We looked around and there was a mountain of mud, rocks and water coming towards us.”
“We shouted for help. There were loud cries. We thought we wouldn’t survive but we still ran for shelter. I have bruises all over my legs and arms but I am alive.”