Time Running Out For Indian Workers Trapped Since Glacier Disaster

Rescue teams gather near the entrance of a tunnel blocked with mud and debris, where workers are trapped, in Tapovan of Chamoli district on February 9, 2021 following a flash flood thought to have been caused when a glacier burst on February 7. Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP
Rescue teams gather near the entrance of a tunnel blocked with mud and debris, where workers are trapped, in Tapovan of Chamoli district on February 9, 2021 following a flash flood thought to have been caused when a glacier burst on February 7. Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

 

Time was running out to save dozens of people trapped inside a tunnel three days after a devastating flash flood likely caused by a glacier burst in India’s Himalayan north, officials said Wednesday.

More than 170 people were still missing after a barrage of water and debris hurtled with terrifying speed and power down a valley on Sunday morning, sweeping away bridges and roads and hitting two hydroelectric plants.

Thirty-two bodies have been found so far, officials said on Wednesday. It may take days for more bodies to be recovered under the tonnes of rocks and other debris and the thick blanket of grey mud.

Twenty-five of the bodies were yet to be identified. Many of the victims are poor workers from hundreds of miles away in other parts of India whose whereabouts at the time of the disaster may not be known.

The main focus of the massive rescue operation, underway day and night since Sunday, is a tunnel near a severely damaged hydroelectric plant that was under construction at Tapovan in Uttarakhand state.

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Workers there have been battling their way through hundreds of tonnes of sludge, boulders, and other obstacles to try and reach 34 people who rescuers hope are alive in air pockets.

“As time passes, the chances of finding them are reducing. But miracles do happen,” Piyoosh Rautela, a senior state disaster relief official told AFP.

“There’s only so much that one can do. We can’t push in multiple bulldozers together. We are working round the clock — man, the machinery we are all working round the clock. But the amount of debris is so much that it’s going to take a while to remove all that,” he said.

Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the border police told the Times of India that if the 34 are alive, the biggest concern is hypothermia, “which can be fatal in such conditions”.

Outside the tunnel, there were medical teams on standby with oxygen cylinders and stretchers, as well as anxious relatives.

Shuhil Dhiman, 47, said that his brother-in-law Praveen Diwan, a private contractor, and father of three, had driven into the tunnel on Sunday morning with three others when the flood-hit.

“We don’t know what happened to him. We went near the tunnel but there are tonnes of slush coming out. The tunnel has a sharp slope from the opening and I think water and slush have gone deep inside,” Shuhil Dhiman told AFP.

“I am hoping against hope,” he said. “The authorities are doing their best but the situation is beyond anyone’s ability.”

The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming.

Building activity for dams, the dredging of riverbeds for sand, and the clearing of trees for new roads — some to beef up defence on the Chinese border — are other factors.

AFP

Three Dead, 150 Missing In India River Torrent Disaster – Police

Police personnel prepare in Srinagar of Uttarakhand state on February 7, 2021 after a glacier broke off in Chamoli district causing flash floods in the Dhauli Ganga river. – Part of a Himalayan glacier broke away into an Indian river on February 7, causing huge torrents that breached a dam and swept away bridges and roads, with casualties feared, officials said. (Photo by – / AFP)

 

Three people were confirmed dead and at least 150 were missing in northern India after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads on Sunday, police said.

The massive burst of water tore through the Dhauliganga river valley, destroying everything in its path, videos taken by terrified residents showed.

Three bodies had been found and a desperate search was underway for more, police said, and efforts are underway to clear villages in the stricken region of Uttarakhand state.

“We have located at least three dead bodies on the river bed,” a police spokesperson in the state told AFP.

“Our last update puts the missing persons number at 150, and there are 16 or 17 persons trapped inside a tunnel.”

Most of those missing were at the Tapovan power plant next to a dam that was breached by the surge.

Emergency workers were desperately trying to reach about 17 people trapped inside a tunnel at the complex that had been filled with debris.

Scores of mobile phone videos shared on social media showed the massive burst of water tearing through a narrow valley below the power plant, leaving roads and bridges destroyed in its wake.

Most of the villages being evacuated are on hillsides overlooking the river, which is a tributary of the Ganges.

“The district administration, police department and disaster management have been ordered to deal with this disaster,” Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was monitoring the relief operation.

“India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there,” he said on Twitter.

Authorities emptied two dams in a bid to stop the flood waters reaching the Ganges at the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, where authorities have barred people from going near the banks of the sacred river, officials said.

The flash floods have caused damage to a dam next to the Rishiganga power plant and other infrastructure, Neeru Garg, a senior police officer in the region, told AFP.

Swiss Police Confirm Identities Of Couple Buried In Glacier Since 1942

Swiss police confirmed on Wednesday the identity of a Swiss couple whose frozen remains were found on a shrinking glacier last week, and who had been missing for 75 years.

Marcellin and Francine Dumoulin, the parents of seven children, had gone to feed their cattle in a meadow in the Valais Canton on August 15, 1942.

Their bodies and belongings including food, a book, umbrella and backpack were found in a hole on Zanfleuron Glacier, on Glacier 3000, by an employee doing maintenance work last Thursday (July 13).

The disappearance of the 40-year-old shoemaker and his 37-year-old wife, a teacher, shocked the region.

All their sons are now dead. One of them spent a great part of his life desperately searching the glacier hoping to find the bodies of his parents.

The two daughters, Monique Gautschy-Dumoulin, 86, and Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, 79, are still alive.

For Monique, who was 11 when her parents went missing and still remembers details of that day, there is little relief in the discovery of their bodies, and the pain of their absence remains strong.

“25,300 and something days…I have counted and written on a bit of paper the number of days during which we missed our Mum and our Dad. These are things one can never ever forget. I’ll be able to forget only when I close my eyes for the last time,” Monique said.

Recalling the morning her parents left, she said, “The day they left, the weather was beautiful…You know, at that time, we didn’t have anything like a radio, or anything like we have today giving the weather forecast for a number of days. When they started climbing up the glacier, the weather was beautiful, until a huge cloud came when they were in the middle of the glacier…They were swallowed by this cloud.”

Glacier 3000 Director Bernhard Tschannen explained that the couple had fallen into a crevasse in the glacier, adding that Francine had gone out with her husband for the first time that day.

“So for the first time, the wife went with the husband, because before she was always pregnant, she had seven kids, and we believe that they were walking either in direction of Bern (Swiss capital) or coming back and that they fell into a crevasse,” he said.

“Then, at that time, the glacier was much bigger than now, and, to imagine, in winter time, we have 5, 6 meters of fresh snow on the glacier. So, in the last years, the glacier shrunk a bit. This is now why 75 years later, two bodies came out on the glacier and it took so much time because they were very deep in the glacier inside.”

The pair were among 280 people listed as missing in the Alps or rivers of the Valais canton since 1925, according to the police who expect to find more bodies as the glaciers melt.