Some workers could be trapped in a tunnel at a state-owned NTPC hydro project, clogged with debris from the avalanche triggered by the glacial burst, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said at a press conference late on Sunday evening.
“Uttarakhand has witnessed a terrible disaster,” Rawat said, adding that the state is expecting “significant loss to human lives and infrastructure.”
Indian Army and members from India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been assisting rescue efforts, and more NDRF teams are being airlifted from New Delhi and expected to arrive on Monday.
The Rishiganga power project, in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, was damaged by the floods. Those living alongside the Alaknanda River were urged to flee to safety, but stay calm.
The minister said of the total 35 people working at the Rishiganga Power project, “roughly 29 to 30 people are missing.”
Some 5 kilometers from that project, flash floods affected the downstream hydro project of NTPC, a state-owned power company on the Dhauliganga river, Rawat said. Some 176 laborers were working on that project, which has two tunnels, the minister said.
“Roughly 15 people” managed to get out of one tunnel after getting word of the avalanche on their mobile devices, Rawat said, adding that 35 to 50 workers had been rescued and returned to the NTPC plant.
Workers could be trapped in tunnels
More than 30 workers could be stuck in the second tunnel, he warned. Rescuers are battling to reach them but the surrounding road is covered in debris.
The Chief Minister also announced a compensation of four lakh Indian Rupees ($5,495.39 USD) for the families of those deceased.
A witness told Reuters that an avalanche of dust, rock and water cascaded down the Dhauli Ganga river valley located more than 500 km (310 miles) north of New Delhi.
“It came very fast, there was no time to alert anyone,” Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives on the upper reaches of the river in Raini village in Uttarakhand, told Reuters by phone. “I felt that even we would be swept away.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a message of support in the wake of the disaster. “Am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand,” he tweeted.
“India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there. Have been continuously speaking to senior authorities and getting updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work and relief operations.”
Uttarakhand state is home to the source of the Ganges River, the site of Hinduism’s famous Char Dham pilgrimage and Rishikesh, the meditation retreat popularized by The Beatles. But the area is also prone to flash floods and landslides — in 2013, the state was hit by what was dubbed by the area’s chief minister as a “Himalayan tsunami.”
Nearly 6,000 people lost their lives those floods, according to Reuters.