New Delhi: Hope for finding more survivors has diminished as the operation to rescue about 35 workers trapped inside a 2.5 km NTPC hydel project tunnel in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand is continuing on Wednesday, while the death toll in the aftermath a snow avalanche, rose to 32. More than 170 people, including the trapped labourers, are still missing.
ITBP officials said that on Wednesday morning, a joint team of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the National Disaster Response Force, the State Disaster Response Force and sister agencies again entered the tunnel.
The rescuers have started to remove the slush from a 60-metre patch filled with sludge and debris from the tunnel.
"The tunnel is up to 15 feet high and the height of the debris is 13-14 feet. We have cleared up to 120 metres so far. It is these 60 metres that is proving to be extremely challenging to clear. There is a gap beyond this mound where this tunnel meets the other and we are hopeful of finding the trapped people there," the official said.
The official said no contact had been established with the trapped workers so far. "We are hopeful because beyond 60 metres, we do not expect any debris. The more debris we are extricating, the more of it is flowing out on its own," he said.
Another official said: "Some people working here have told us that they had complained of the tunnel getting inundated in the past but no action was taken. The floor is marshy, making it difficult to walk. Only heavy vehicles and machines can extricate the debris."
An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was also flown into the tunnel to collect clues but it did not get enough headroom for manoeuvring.
As Raini bridge was also washed away, cutting off 13 villages, relief material is being provided to the stranded villagers through helicopters. The State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) has built a temporary rope-way to restore essential supplies to the nearby Raini village. Debris is also being removed from the houses of area residents.
Control rooms have been set up at the State and Centre level to monitor the ongoing search, rescue and relief operations by joint teams comprising the Army, ITBP, NDRF and SDRF personnel. Besides, a Sashastra Seema Bal team and a Navy diving unit have been deployed. Five Air Force helicopters, apart from those being used by the State administration, have been engaged. Several medical teams with ambulances have also been stationed.