LUCKNOW, (INDIA) – Rescuers are racing against time to free around 35 Indian construction workers trapped in a tunnel. The workers were working on building a hydroelectric dam, which got swept away by a wall of water from a collapsed glacier that barrelled down a Himalayan river. The workers were among 197 people who officials said were still unaccounted for as the death toll from the disaster rose to 28.
According to officials the glacier collapse must have triggered packing rocks, dirt and construction debris. The glacier lake that collapsed is by India’s second highest peak, Nanda Devi. The flood swept down the Dhauliganga river on Sunday, which broke apart bridges, cut off villages and scarred tracts of mountain landscape.
Officials said most of those still missing were shift workers at either the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project, where the tunnel was situated, or at Rishiganga, a smaller dam which was swept away in the flood.
Rescuers hoped to open the tunnel up by Tuesday afternoon, said Ashok Kumar, director general of police in Uttarakhand state, where the flash flood occurred.
Thermal imaging equipment had also been deployed to help locate would-be survivors, and Uttarakhand’s chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat, said 28 bodies had been recovered so far.
Thirteen villages had been cut off by the floodwaters were being resupplied from the air, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament.
A government official said many locals had apparently managed to escape the waters by running to higher ground as soon as they heard the rumble of the water racing down the valley.
“The workers in the tunnel may not have heard anything and got stuck,” the official said.
The 520 MW Tapovan project, being built by state firm NTPC, is one of many run-of-river projects being developed to upgrade Uttarakhand’s power network.
Officials are yet to determine the actual cause behind the disaster, though scientists investigating it believe heavy snowfall followed by bright sunshine combined with a rise in temperatures may have triggered the glacier’s collapse.
A clearer picture of the circumstances is expected to emerge later this week, officials said.