Tribune News Service
Joshimath, February 11
The multi-agency rescue team digging through the debris inside the Tapovan hydro project tunnel in Uttarakhand where 30 to 35 workers are feared trapped had to halt its operation for over two hours after the level of the Dhauliganga river surged temporarily.
The toll in the disaster, triggered after an avalanche or a glacier break triggered a surge of water in the Alaknanda river system in Chamoli district on Sunday, has risen to 36 while 168 persons are still missing.
In an apparent change in strategy around 2 am on Thursday, the rescuers had begun an operation to drill through the hardened debris in the choked tunnel rather than just shifting mounds of sludge heaped there by the flashflood. But as the water level in the river rose, the workers scrambled out of the tunnel with their heavy machinery. The aim was to set up a life-saving system, possibly to pump oxygen into the blocked tunnel, said officials.
Chamoli District Magistrate Swati S Bhadauria said the work was temporarily halted as a precautionary measure and resumed around 5.30 pm after assessing the situation.
A senior Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) official said, “The drilling operation towards the slush flushing tunnel was stopped later in the day after approximately 7 to 8 metres of drill. A hard rock obstructed the cutters to operate. The rescue teams are now removing the slush again as earlier with JCB loader machines.”
As the continuous flow of slush and silt remained a major obstacle between the rescuers and those feared trapped inside, a boring operation by a huge machine was also being undertaken to see if the problem could be addressed in a different way and the teams could reach further inside, the official said. The focal point of the rescue operation now remains the 1.5-km head-race tunnel, a part of the 2.5-km long network of tunnels.
Drilling through the debris started from around 68 metres inside the tunnel and the focus at the moment is to take life-saving devices such as oxygen cylinders to those trapped by drilling, the official said, adding that the drilling was to be done for 12 metres to access the probable location of those trapped.
Till Wednesday, about 120 metres of slush from the mouth of the tunnel was cleared and those feared trapped inside were stated to be located somewhere at 180 metres, where the tunnel takes a slip or a turn.
A rescuer said those trapped inside must be in a bad shape without food and water, “but there was hope against hope that they would be surviving somehow as the temperature inside the tunnel was about 20-25 degrees Celsius and some oxygen was possibly available to them”.
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