On Sunday, when the Dhauliganga river tore through the Rishiganga hydel project near Reni village, 24-year-old Abhishek Singh was sitting for breakfast just a few kilometres downstream at Tapovan Bihag.
An electrical engineer at the NTPC Tapovan project, Singh got a call from his supervisor asking him to come to the tunnel site immediately as there was a fault in the under-construction tunnel. He rushed out from home and promised to return in 10 minutes to have the food. That wait has turned into three days now.
Singh’s father, Rishi Prasad, saw the river raging towards the project site. He ran after Singh, but could not stop him from going inside. "He had told me before leaving that he is going inside the tunnel to fix some electrical issues. I could see the way the river was surging, and knew the tunnel would be impacted. I ran to stop him but before I could reach, the mouth of the tunnel was covered by the river and the debris," Prasad told News18.
Prasad said that given the short span of time before disaster struck, Singh could not have gone too deep inside.
"The authorities are not doing enough. One JCB machine is not enough. My son should have been found by now if they went all out," he said.
Singh’s is one of the 39 families that have been waiting for some piece of good news. NTPC engineer Manish Kumar's family has travelled all the way from Patna to Joshimath hoping to receive some positive news. On Tuesday, the distressed family was at the tunnel site desperate for some information.
A few kilometres away in the Tapovan Bihag village, last rites were being held for Narender Khanera. Witnesses said Khanera had screamed for help for three hours before passing away. He was stuck waist-deep in the slush next to the NTPC barrage. "We threw ropes, tried going near him, but nothing worked. Three hours later, his strength finally gave away," Birender Singh Rawat, an eye witness, told News18. Khanera's family said his nephew Anil was also at the barrage and is still missing.
A few houses away, the family of Sarojni Devi and her 18-year-old daughter are also grieving. The duo had gone to cut grass to feed their cows. The rising water swept them away before the eyes of their family that watched from their home on top of a hill.
A similar fate awaited Manoj Singh Negi of Rengi village. A graduate student of science, Negi worked at the barrage to earn a few extra rupees to fund his education. Villagers said he too got no chance to escape.