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20 trapped inside Parbati tunnel
Hutments of workers washed away
Pratibha Chauhan & Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Pulga (Kullu), August 8
More than 20 workers have been trapped inside a tunnel being excavated for the execution of the 2051 MW Parbati Hydel Project near Barsiani village after slush blocked the mouth of the tunnel due to a cloudburst in the higher reaches of the area, almost 70 km from Kullu, last night.

The mishap took place at about 12.30 am when more than 20 persons were working in the night shift inside the zero adit head rest tunnel at Pulga. Following heavy rain in the higher reaches, there was a cloudburst which brought down tonnes of slush and boulders in the Jiwa nullah, blocking the mouth of the tunnel. The workers were taken unawares and could not rush to safety. Almost 500 workers, including women and children who were in the adjoining colony managed to rush to the higher reaches as the watchman sounded an alert. Within seconds, there was no trace left of the hutments which were swept by the gushing waters.

Those trapped inside belong to Orissa (10), Jharknand (5), HP, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana (1 each). The workers include labourers, drivers, fitters, electricians and helpers. They have been identified Nana Topna, Kashmir Singh, Simhachal Barik, Elish Vengra, Sohan Lal, Kartik Roy, Manargam Parida, Muhammad Hussain, Manoj Pradhan, Prem K. Prajap, Jugal Puzar, Arjun Naik, Rajender Rana, Trinath Naik, Sahadev, Khugupathi Mazi, Mukul Raba, Ramesh Chandrabh, Ashok Pradhan and Nishar Khan.

Though the district administration and officials who are executing the work on the 3.5-km-long tunnel, claimed that only 20 workers were inside, relatives of those trapped maintained that in any shift, there were at least 40 persons. Hence, the number was higher.

So far, 1100 m of the tunnel has been made from the Pulga side and work from the adit-I side is under way as part of the 800 MW second phase of the Parbati project which is being executed by the NHPC.

“Though about 500 persons could be saved after the alarm was raised, but the 20 persons inside the tunnel could not be alerted as there was no time and everybody was rushing for their own safety,” said Mr Retrekar, Deputy General Manager, Patel Engineering Ltd. He said the height of the tunnel was 6 m and after the flood, more than 11 m of slush had been deposited at the mouth of the tunnel. He said his company had suffered a loss of over Rs 20 crore as vehicles and expensive equipment had been washed away.

The 4th Battalion of the ITBP, police and Home Guard personnel are undertaking the rescue work, which could be started only after the water level receded at about 5 am. Two excavators have been pressed into service to clear the slush and open the top of the tunnel to let in oxygen. The Deputy Commissioner and the SP, Kullu, are camping at the site to oversee the rescue work.

Pyar Chand, a truck driver who came out of the tunnel only a few minutes before the gushing waters wreaked havoc as his vehicle was giving problem, said there was no time for anybody to inform those inside. Moreover, there was no time to cross the 1100 m distance inside the tunnel where the work was going on. “It was before my eyes that I saw big trucks, excavators, boomers, concrete pumps, trucks and boulders being away, he said.

Though there was no rain today, the possibility of rain at night could hamper rescue work, said officials. “We are still hopeful that we will be able to save those inside as we have had similar experiences in coal mines but what is required immediately is an opening in the tunnel to let fresh air go in,” said Mr A.K. Mishra, who is from the CLR company.

Mr Retrekar said about 200 persons would be accommodated in offices and sheds of the company at Pulga and an equal number of workers would be sent to the Gurdwara at Manikaran.

The rescue operation has failed to yield much result as blasting the tunnel opening turned futile as the spot is filled with debris about 7 mrts above the adit tunnel.

Two JCB machines are lifting the debris and black morain silt. The NHPC and district administration have yet to device a strategy to rescue the workers as all efforts have failed to bear fruit till late evening.

The situation has been worsened by the Jhigir nullah which is flowing about 7 m above its riverbed, engineers say. “The adit tunnel is just 3 m away and 7 m down from the flow of the nullah, they added. These machines could not reach the site as the approach road to the tunnel has been washed away.

The SP, Kullu, Mr Anand Pratap Singh, said it was very difficult to make room 7 m below from the riverbed as fine silt and the debris was hampering rescue work.

Also the rain has aggravated the situation at the site.
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