UPDATED: February 12, 2021 11:53 IST
Two people have been rescued so far while 36 have died as agencies continue rescue operations in the Tapovan tunnel to establish contact with the over 30 people trapped inside following a flash flood in Uttarakhand.
As operations continue at Tapovan in Chamoli district on the sixth day, the Uttarakhand government has said 36 bodies have been recovered, while 204 people continue to be missing.
“36 dead bodies recovered and two persons found alive so far,” Chamoli District Magistrate Swati Bhadoriya was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
The confirmed death toll in the Uttarakhand disaster rose to 36 on Thursday after the recovery of two more bodies along the riverbank after an avalanche triggered a surge of water in the Alaknanda river system.
Rescuers Shift Strategy, Drill Through Debris
Rescue agencies began drilling through the debris in the Tapovan tunnel to establish contact with the over 30 people trapped inside, an operation which stalled briefly on Thursday when the Dhauliganga river began swelling again.
In an apparent change in strategy, the rescuers are now also focusing on drilling through the hardened debris in the choked tunnel in Chamoli district, rather than just shifting mounds of silt and sludge heaped there by the sudden flood.
The aim for now is to set up a “life-saving system”, possibly to pump oxygen into the blocked tunnel.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the Army are part of the multi-agency rescue effort, which continues even as hopes of finding the trapped workers alive recede with each passing hour.
On Thursday afternoon, there was another scare when the water of the Dhauliganga a tributary of the Alaknanda began rising again.
Rescue workers at the Tapovan site scrambled to safety, pulling their heavy machinery to higher ground. A press briefing ended midway and the operation halted.
It resumed after 45 minutes with cautious officials saying they will send in only small teams to the rescue site for now. Barricades were now put up to prevent people from coming too close to the tunnel, which runs parallel to the river.
Rescuers began the drilling in the early hours of Thursday.
“A drilling operation was started by the rescue teams at 2 am to peep into the slush-flushing tunnel that is about 12-13 metres below,” Vivek Kumar Pandey, the spokesperson for the lead rescue agency, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), said in Delhi.
As the continuous flow of slush and silt remains a major obstacle between the rescuers and those trapped inside, a boring operation by a huge machine is being undertaken to see if this problem can be addressed in a different way and the teams can go further deep inside, he added.
Drilling through the debris started from around 68 metres inside the tunnel, Garhwal Commissioner Ravinath Raman told PTI.
The focus at the moment is to set up a “life-saving system”, including oxygen, for those trapped inside by drilling through the debris, Raman said.
The drilling is to be done for 12 metres to access their probable location, he added.
Till Wednesday, about 120 metres of sludge from the mouth of the tunnel was cleared and the trapped workers stated to be located somewhere at 180 metres, where the tunnel takes a turn.