ITBP recce team visits glacier-burst site; DG says tunnel op to continue till trapped are found

Neelabh Srivastava
·4-min read

New Delhi, Feb 10 (PTI) An ITBP reconnaissance team visited the glacier-break site on Wednesday that is suspected to have triggered the massive flash flood in Uttarakhand even as its chief S S Deswal said the rescue operation to locate the 30-35 workers trapped in Tapovan tunnel will continue till it reaches a 'logical conclusion.' Deswal told PTI that the paramilitary force is 'very hopeful' that the workers in the about 1,500 metre long tubular structure marked as 'head race tunnel', out of the total 2.5 km length, are safe with the help of possible air vents in the structure.

'We are very hopeful that we will be able to rescue them. The workers are stated to be located at their work station that is about 180 metres from the mouth of the Tapovan tunnel,' the ITBP chief said.

'I can tell you that we will continue our efforts till any length of time... for whatever time it takes to reach the logical conclusion and find the workers. My boys are determined to locate those trapped there and we may reach that slip tunnel spot (where those trapped are said to be located) by Wednesday evening,' he said.

A multi-agency team of rescuers comprising the ITBP, NDRF, state disaster response force and the Army have cleared about 120 metres of slush inside the 22-25 feet high tunnel till now but continuous flow of the silt is hampering their rescue efforts.

A camera-mounted drone flown inside the tunnel on Tuesday also could not provide any leads to the rescue teams.

Officials said the workers got trapped soon after the swollen river came hurtling down and washed away everything with its furious speed.

Three heavy earth moving vehicles are also stated to be inside with the workers and the temperature inside the tunnel is hovering around 25-26 degrees Celsius.

'The only important aspect is that these trapped men should get some oxygen to breathe... they can survive in the given temperature and with available clothes they may be having,' the DG said.

He added that an ITBP team also recced the site in the upper reaches of the Himalayas on Wednesday, where it is estimated that a glacier block cracked up leading to a flash flood in the Alaknanda river system that has killed 32 people till now while the whereabouts of over 170 people are still unknown.

'We are sharing the photos and videos of the glacier break site with scientists and experts who can make a better assessment as to how the disaster took place,' Deswal said.

The ITBP reconnaissance team flew over the glacier break site in a helicopter.

The DG counted some of the challenges of the operation being the narrow passage (20-25 feet) of the tunnel that allows only one big earthmover to remove the debris at one go and it comes back in reverse gear to dump the slush outside to make way for the rescuers to further go deep inside.

Deswal said about 450 troops of the border guarding force, led by a deputy inspector general rank officer and a Commandant, are camping in the area to run the operation 24 hours.

He said about five ITBP border posts along the Line of Actual Control with China that have been disconnected through the land route, as some bridges snapped in and around the Raini village, are in 'contact' and the about 400 troops there have rations and other essential stocked with them.

'In fact, troops of these border posts are ferrying food packets on their back to about a dozen villages that have been cut off. My troops collect these air-dropped packets of food and other essential items, after multiple helicopter sorties, from the Lata helipad being operated by us,' he said.

There are about 500 houses in these cut off villages like Jugju, Juagoar, Gwar, Lata, Suki, Balgaoun, Tolma, Fagti, Long, Rainipalli, Pang and Surai Thoha, a senior official present on the ground said.

Another officer based in Uttarakhand said a fresh team of the ITBP is now looking for survivors in the Tapovan barrage area where the flood waters hit on Sunday leading to large scale damage to the structure.

'Some videos have emerged that show those working on the barrage jumped down. We are looking for least 30-35 missing people in this area at a depth of about 30 feet,' he said. PTI NES SKL RDM RDM