Uttarakhand update: 13 bodies recovered, SDRF surveys Rishiganga river

Rescuers on Sunday found 13 bodies, including six from the tunnel where 25-35 people are reportedly trapped at the disaster-hit Tapovan project in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand, officials said.

The six bodies were found during the excavation work inside the tunnel, state police spokesperson said, DIG Nilesh Anand Bharne.

This is the first time since the February 7 floods that the rescuers have found bodies inside the tunnel.

“We are expecting more bodies as hopes are receding for survival of those trapped,” a top official admitted. There is still no contact with the remaining trapped people inside.

Officials also said that the rescue work had been speeded up with the installation of some additional machines like excavators on Saturday.

Presently, the rescuers are working on two strategies – drilling a big hole vertically downward on one hand and digging and excavating debris and sludge inside the tunnel on the other.

Two days ago, the rescue workers had started drilling the tunnel vertically downward. However, within hours, the drilling work was also intermittently disrupted due technical reasons. But the rescuers made another attempt on Friday night and made a small hole vertically downward.

After days of digging and excavation works, jawans of the army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force, who are engaged in the rescue work, had managed open up a sizeable portion of the tunnel. But the presence of heavy silt and sludge inside the tunnel slowed down the excavation and digging work, top government officials said. Rescuers had also consulted NTPC officials to understand the complicated design of the tunnel.

Elsewhere, seven bodies were recovered – six from disaster-hit Reni village and one from Alaknanda river in Rudraprayag area.

With the recovery of 13 more bodies on Sunday, the total toll has gone up to 51. Nearly 200 people went missing after the February 7 morning deluge.

Amid an alert, an eight-member team of the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) has conducted a survey of a lake in the catchment area of the turbulent Rishiganga river which had caused a deluge in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on February 7.

The team headed by SDRF Commandant Navneet Bhullar returned to Reni village in Chamoli district on Saturday evening after collecting samples from the lake besides filming videos of the area.

“We will send these samples and videos to the police headquarters in Dehradun for further action,” said Bhullar.

The SDRF team, which began its trek on Friday morning, took nearly 13-14 hours to reach the lake where they set up a temporary camp on Friday evening.

Significantly, there is a considerable discharge from the lake also, Bhullar said. However, he refused to comment further on the discharge issue saying it is up to the scientists to take a note of it.

“We have also found a proper route to the lake which may help in case of any emergency in the future,” Bhullar said.

After fears expressed by some villagers, the Uttarakhand government on Friday had sounded an alert after satellite images spotted the formation of a lake in the catchment area of the Rishiganga river.

“We have to remain alert as satellite pictures show the formation of a 400m lake at Rishiganga,” Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had stated.

Top government officials said that people have been asked not to go near the Rishiganga river and take all precautions.

The government has also asked scientists of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and the Geological Survey of India to depute teams to the Rishiganga valley to prepare a detailed report on the lake formation.

Reports pouring in from different areas of Chamoli district said the flow of Rishiganga abruptly increased many times since Thursday afternoon which forced the authorities to suspend the search operation inside the disaster-hit tunnel of NTPC’s 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project for a couple of times.

Rishiganga is a tributary of Dhauliganga river on which the Tapovan project is being built.

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