TAPOVAN: The strategy for rescue operation in the tunnel of Tapovan Hydropower project in Chamoli district has changed since the discovery of new information that the 37 labourers may be trapped in another tunnel below the main D-shaped 'Intake Adit Tunnel'.
Till now, the D-shaped 180-meter-long tunnel has been the focal point of the three-day-long rescue misson by the combined rescue team comprising Indo-Tibetan Border Police, National Disaster Response Force, Indian Army, Indian Reserve Battalion, State Disaster Response Force, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, state police department and other agencies who are trying to get through it to rescue 37 trapped men.
Ravinath Raman, commissioner of Garhwal division of Uttarakhand told The New Indian Express, "Earlier, the idea was that they might have been trapped inside the 180 meter tunnel at a bend. Now, the rescue team has started drilling the ground at 70-75 meters inside that tunnel to rescue the workers."
The development took place after a combined meeting of state government authorities, armed forces and the NTPC.
"The information is constantly emerging and developing because everything is based on anticipation on the basis of the layout of the tunnel. Today we found that the sludge is pushing back from the tunnel. The consensus was reached to look for the workers in Silt Filtration Tunnel (SFT) below the main tunnel," added the Commissioner.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, a senior official from the combined rescue team on the condition of anonymity said, "First two days, we were blind."
The official also revealed that the combined team got the detailed layout of the tunnels from the organization building the project only on Tuesday.
The revelation comes at a time when combined forces are racing against time to save the lives of trapped men.
A representative of the company who is in Chamoli when contacted with the query related to the matter said, "I cannot answer that as my role is different."
Radhakrishna, general manager of Rithwik Projects Private Limited said, "We are giving fullest cooperation to the rescue team and other people and we are leaving no stone unturned to save those men. Our technical team are cooperating fully with the rescue team."
The Hyderabad-based company is working under the NTPC contract agreement since 2012 in Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Electric Project.
The company has also submitted a list of 115 workers, employees who have been missing since the Sunday flash floods including the 37 labourers trapped in the tunnel.
However, the commissioner of Garhwal division said that they had the layout from the beginning.
"The layout was never an issue. We have it from the beginning."
TNIE has already reported how the rescue team is racing against time to save the trapped men.
It is notable that the right information helped the rescue team save 12 men trapped in another tunnel on Sunday itself in an operation that spanned for over 6 hours.
The video shared by the ITBP went viral as the man danced his way out gesturing 'Balle Balle' as he was being rescued.
Piyoosh Rautela, executive director, Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation and Management Center (DMMC) commenting on the issue said, "The rescue team is working on the very spot where the men are trapped since the very beginning. It doesn't matter if they had the layout or not. Also, tunnel rescue is altogether a different game. Rescue during earthquake, flood and landslide is different while tunnel rescue is more difficult."
He added, "No one will know the layout better than the people involved in the construction of the project. Also, the sludge removal is a tricky task as it moves and fills the space created, making it a difficult and time taking process."
Till Wednesday 5.30 pm a total 34 bodies were recovered while 170 remained missing. Meanwhile, Uttarakhand director general of police was quoted saying that 'there is not much progress in the rescue operation'.
Commenting on the progress of tunnel rescue operation, Nilesh Anand Bharney, incharge of State Police Disaster Control Room said, "The rescue team is trying in every way possible to save the lives of the men. It is a tough situation."
The rescue team is now using drones, three excavator machines and other equipment with over 100 men working to clear the tunnel while over 800 personnel are on the site. Apart from this around 700 personnel are on standby.
Other flood efforts
Till Wednesday evening, the state government agencies have restored water supply in 10 out of 11 blades where water supply was disrupted due to flash floods. Similarly, the power supply has been restored in 11 out of 13 villages which were lost due to the washing away of total of five bridges.
Ration is also being provided through air support in the villages which are cut off.
Uttarakhand state public works department on Tuesday started constructing four trolly bridges at the locations where motorable bridges and suspension bridges were washed away in the flash flood.
The trolly bridges which will carry one person at a time are being installed in Raini village, Tapovan and Juwagad village to connect the villages.
Meanwhile, relatives from various states to where the missing and the trapped belong such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar and Jharkhand are pouring in Chamoli with their hope hanging by on a thin thread.
Harpal Singh from Ludhiana of Punjab whose four family members including brothers and cousins are missing visited Tapovan police station to provide details.
"I hope they are found alive and if trapped in tunnel I am praying for everyone to be rescued alive. I don't know what to say, think or do in this situation. Our families are numb with shock," said Singh.
Prem Singh, a resident of Raini village, an epicenter of the flashfloods whose mother is missing said, "We have lost all hope now. It has been more than 3-days. We cannot even conduct her last rites and rituals as her body is yet to be found."
Residents of Raini and adjacent villages continue to sleep in forest areas on higher altitudes fearing another avalanche sometime soon.