Two more bodies recovered from Tapovan tunnel, disaster toll rises to 58

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Tapovan/Dehradun, Feb 16 (PTI) Two more bodies were recovered early Tuesday from the Tapovan tunnel where efforts were underway on the 10th consecutive day to reach workers feared trapped inside after a flash flood in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.

The confirmed death toll in the Chamoli disaster has now mounted to 58 and another 148 people are missing, an official said.

Eleven of the bodies were recovered from the tunnel at the National Thermal Power Corporation’s Tapovan-Vishnugad project site, where about 30 people were initially feared trapped.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) commandant P K Tiwari said the search-and-rescue operations will go on till the last victim is reached. But he also indicated that the clearing the sludge and the debris from the entire tunnel could take months.

Asked about the chances of survival of those missing or trapped, the NDRF commandant said he cannot say anything with certainty, but miracles do happen.

'We found a survivor in Himachal Pradesh even on the 10th day of a similar tragedy. There are miracles,” he told PTI, while reminding that 'lakhs of tonnes' of sludge is packed into the tunnel after the February 7 disaster.

“However, as a soldier and a rescuer, I can only say the operations will continue till the last victim is reached,' Tiwari said.

Rescue work at the site progressed slower Tuesday than on other days with water seeping out of the debris from the yet to be cleared portion of the tunnel.

About 150 metres of the tunnel have been cleared so far of the debris pushed into by surge of water, apparently triggered by an avalanche in the upper reaches of the Alaknanda river system.

A PTI photographer who walked down the tunnel on Tuesday evening found that a wall of solid mud blocked it beyond the 150-metre mark.

One body was recovered past midnight and rescuers found another at around 2 am, said an official at the temporary mortuary in Tapovan.

The agencies involved in the Tapovan rescue work include the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF).

The SDRF on Tuesday said it is keeping tabs on the temporary lake formed in the catchment area of the Rishiganga, but did not anticipate any immediate danger of it breaching its banks and causing another flash flood.

An SDRF team has climbed up to the lake, possibly formed by the debris after the recent avalanche, for an assessment.

The team found that water is escaping out of the lake, reducing the chances of it suddenly bursting through its banks. PTI ALM AS CORR DV RC ASH ASH