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Multi-agency operation on to rescue those trapped in Uttarakhand tunnel

A multi-agency operation to rescue people trapped inside a big tunnel at Tapovan was carried out overnight after a glacier burst-triggered deluge killed 10 people in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force teams left for the avalanche-hit areas of Chamoli to ramp up relief efforts while rescuers pulled out three more bodies of the people missing in the glacier burst taking the toll to 10.

Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said 143 people were still missing, a day after the glacier burst triggered a massive avalanche and floods in the Alaknanda river system.

The efforts were focused at the moment on rescuing 30 to 35 people trapped in a 250-metre long tunnel at Tapovan, he said.

“A total of 153 people were missing  from the two hydel projects at Raini and Tapovan out of which 10 bodies have been recovered while 143 are still missing,” Kumar said.Personnel from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and some state disaster response teams are clearing the tunnel that has been blocked with slush, debris and silt, and are inching closer towards the stuck workers.“Our teams are working overnight to rescue about 30 workers who are trapped in the tunnel. Specialised equipment for such operations has been deployed. We are hopeful we will able to rescue everyone,” ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said in Delhi.

Around 300 ITBP personnel were currently deployed at the site, he said.

Another officer said it was estimated that around 34 people are trapped in the ‘head race tunnel’ or HRT.

The force’s Additional Director General (Western Command) MS Rawat also reached the spot on Monday morning to take stock of the situation and interacted with officers working at the site, Pandey added.

ITBP teams were seen clearing the over 1,500-metre-long tunnel, which is executed till over 1,329 metres, using earthmovers driven by local workers.

A team of senior officials, in a video provided by the force, were seen analysing the tunnel’s map to find the best way of approach.

The tunnel had only one entry, an official said.The ITBP rescuers were seen carrying wooden planks which will be used to create a platform to pull out the trapped people using ropes.

Teams of the NDRF also reached the spot late Sunday night and were seen using shovels to clear the tunnel’s approach.

The force has also brought along canine teams that will help them detect lives trapped underneath better.

More teams have been sent to the site on Mi-17 helicopters that landed at the helipad in Joshimath, NDRF chief SN Pradhan said in a Twitter post.

He said the agencies were working in close coordination.

Some teams from the Army have also reached the Tapovan spot, a senior official supervising the operation said.

At least 12 workers were rescued from a smaller tunnel in this area by ITBP on Sunday evening.

The two hydel projects bore the brunt of the “one time” mishap in which the Rishi Ganga hydel project at Raini was totally destroyed and the one at Tapovan suffered partial damage, he said.

“Though all arrangements are in place there is no need for any heli rescue in the affected areas. Only two villages, including Raini, are cut off where essentials are being supplied,” the DGP said.

The sudden flood in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers — all intricately linked tributaries of the Ganga — triggered widespread panic and large-scale devastation in the high mountain areas.

Homes along the way were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountain sides in a raging torrent. There were fears of damage in human settlements downstream, including in heavily populated areas. Many villages were evacuated and people taken to safer areas.

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