A multi-agency rescue operation was underway in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli region that was hit by a massive flood triggered by a glacier burst at Joshimath.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Army swung into action with the latter deploying around 400 personnel in rescue work, besides sending two medical teams to affected areas.
The IAF said all its specialised personnel who were airlifted from Delhi have reached Dehradun. “The airlifting of these personnel from Dehradun onwards to the affected areas will start at 6:45am tomorrow,” said IAF PRO Wing Commander Indranil Nandi.
At least 12 workers trapped in a tunnel near Tapovan dam were rescued by personnel of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) on Sunday evening after a part of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off earlier in the day, leading to a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river and causing large-scale devastation in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalaya.
Over 170 labourers — 148 employed at the NTPC plant and 22 at Rishiganga — are said to be missing, a spokesperson said while quoting the project-in charge. Ten bodies have been found so far, ITBP Spokesperson Vivek Pandey said. As many as five PWD bridges washed away, while 30 people are feared trapped.
The massive flood came as a grim reminder of the Kedarnath deluge of 2013 which led to widespread devastation in the ecologically fragile Himalayan region. A devastating natural disaster in the form of torrential rains of unseen magnitude had struck Kedarnath on 16-17 June in 2013.
The banks of the Chorabari lake in Kedarnath had collapsed due to a cloudburst that had resulted in a major flash flood causing widespread destruction in Uttarakhand and led to heavy losses to infrastructure, agriculture lands, human and animal lives.
However, unlike the Kedarnath tragedy which struck after a downpour, the flash flood on Sunday occurred on a bright and sunny morning which helped in relief and rescue operations by police, State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and ITBP personnel in the affected areas.
An engineering task force of the Army was also deployed at Ringi village in Joshimath and a control room has been set up in the area, officials said.
Scientists with specialised equipment will also be taken to the areas for aerial reconnaissance. We will ensure that maximum bases are available to support the operations: Indian Air Force PRO Wing Commander Indranil Nandi
Uttarakhand DGP Ashok Kumar said rescue work at the NTPC’s 900-metre long Tapovan Tunnel had to be halted due to rise in water level, the Press Information Bureau of Uttarakhand said.
A power project was swept away completely, said state Director General of Police Ashok Kumar, while describing the situation as under control. Homes along the way were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountainsides in a raging torrent.
There were fears of damage in human settlements downstream, including in heavily populated areas. Many villages were evacuated and people were taken to safer areas. Connectivity with some border posts was “totally restricted” due to a bridge collapsing near Ringi village, an ITBP spokesperson said.
Several leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind, prayed for the safety of the victims.
Modi, who was in West Bengal and Assam as part of the BJP’s political campaign for the upcoming Assembly polls, said the Centre is providing all possible help.
“I am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand. India stands with Uttarakhand, prays for everyone’s safety,” he said.
“Uttarakhand is facing a disaster. I am in touch with State CM Trivendra Rawat ji, Union Home Minister and NDRF officers. The rescue operations are underway,” he said while speaking at a rally in Bengal.
Rawat later said, “PM Modi just called to review the flood situation in the state… This was his fourth call regarding the matter.”
Rawat, who had rushed to Raini village to take stock of the situation, said no additional water flows have been reported at the moment and there is no flood situation anywhere.
Several districts, including Pauri, Tehri, Rudraprayag, Haridwar and Dehradun, that were likely to be affected were put on high alert and forces of the ITBP and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rushed in to help with the rescue and relief effort.
News that the 150 labourers at the project on Rishi Ganga were affected had come in the early in the day. “Representatives of the power project have told me they are not being able to contact around 150 of their workmen at the project site,” said State Disaster Response Force DIG Ridhim Aggarwal.
The waters in the Dhauli Ganga, a tributary of the Ganga, was flowing two to three metres above normal, the official added.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Rawat and assured him of all possible support to deal with the situation arising from the glacier burst and the resulting floods. In a series of tweets, Shah also said teams of the NDRF were deployed for rescue and relief operations of the affected people while additional troops of the force were being airlifted from Delhi.
“I have spoken to Chief Minister @tsrawatbjp ji, DG ITBP and DG NDRF regarding the natural disaster in Uttarakhand. All the concerned officers are working on a war footing to secure the people. NDRF teams have left for rescue operations. Every possible help will be provided to ‘Devbhoomi’,” he said. Shah said the central government is constantly monitoring the situation in Uttarakhand.
“Some more teams of NDRF are being airlifted from Delhi and sent to Uttarakhand. We are constantly monitoring the situation there,” he said. A home ministry spokesperson said four NDRF teams (about 200 personnel) were airlifted to Dehradun and would head to Joshimath.
The chief minister also appealed to people to not spread rumours through old flood videos. He said the water level in the Alaknanda, another tributary of the Ganga, is one metre above normal but the flow was reducing gradually.
He said all districts concerned have been alerted and people have been asked not to go near the Ganga.
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) led by Cabinet Secretary, Rajiv Gauba reviewed the situation. The meeting was also attended by Home Secretary, Secretary, Ministry of Power, DG, ITBP, Chief IDS, Members of NDMA, DG, NDRF, Chairman, CWC, DG, IMD and Chairman, DRDO, along with other senior officers. Chief Secretary, Uttarakhand joined the meeting with his team of officers.
The US State Department said, “Our deepest condolences to those affected by the glacier burst and landslide in India. We grieve with the family and friends of the deceased and extend our hopes for a speedy and full recovery for the injured.
French President Emmanuel Macron also expressed France’s full solidarity with India in the wake of the disaster. “France expresses its full solidarity with India, after a glacier burst in the Uttarakhand province, leading to the disappearance of over 100 people. Our thoughts are with them and their families,” Macron wrote on Twitter.
The Foreign Office of Pakistan also expressed grief over the incident. “Saddened over loss of precious lives due to flash floods caused by glacier break-off in Uttarakhand. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims. We pray for the safety and early rescue and recovery of those missing,” it wrote on Twitter.