Ten persons were killed and over 125 went missing after a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district today, triggering an avalanche and a deluge in the Alaknanda river system that swept away a hydropower project and ravaged several villages downstream.
The flashflood occurred around 11.20 am in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers — all intricately linked tributaries of the Ganga — leading to widespread panic and large-scale devastation in the area.
Two power plants —NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project and the Rishi Ganga hydel project — were extensively damaged with scores of labourers trapped in tunnels as the water came gushing in.
Sixteen men were rescued from a tunnel in the Tapovan project, but over 125 were missing, said officials. Five NDRF teams, 250 ITBP and 600 Army personnel were at the site to aid rescue operations, the officials said.
Rishi ganga project washed away: A 13.2 MW hydro project on the Rishi Ganga river was swept away but there is no danger of floods in downstream areas as the water level has been contained.
Water level in the lower areas of Chamoli along the river was reported to be rising again and people near the river bank were being alerted, the state police said late at night after the river waters appeared to be receding earlier in the day.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Rawat said at 6 pm that seven bodies had been recovered and a majority of those missing were workers employed at the two projects.
Three more bodies were recovered later. The 13-MW Rishi Ganga project, which was washed away, was commissioned in 2020 while the other project, 5 km downstream at Tapovan, was under construction.
“Around 35 persons were working at the Rishi Ganga project. Two policemen are also missing. A large number of labourers working at the other project are untraceable,” the CM said, adding that food packets were being air dropped in 13 villages that had been cut off. Five NDRF teams are at the site to execute rescue operations through the night. This is the second flashflood caused by a glacial breach in Uttarakhand after the 2013 Kedarnath deluge.
A 2019 study had warned that climate change was affecting Himalayan glaciers that were melting twice as fast since the start of this century.
Homes along the way were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountainsides in a raging torrent. There was no danger of floods in downstream areas as the water level had been contained, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, was informed at an emergency meeting in the National Capital. The connectivity with some border posts was “totally restricted” due to a bridge collapsing near Reni village, close to the project site, an ITBP spokesperson said.
Several districts, including Pauri, Tehri, Rudraprayag, Haridwar and Dehradun, were put on high alert and ITBP and the NDRF personnel were rushed in to help with the rescue effort. The personnel were seen rappelling down steep mountainsides to aid in the rescue work.
“As minister, I was against power projects on the Ganga & its main tributaries,” BJP leader Uma Bharti claimed.
PM Modi has announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each for the next of those dead. The injured will get Rs 50,000 each. The Army has sent in various teams for the rescue operation. Two Air Force helicopters were also pressed into service to ferry NDRF teams and relief material to Uttarakhand. Navy divers had been kept on standby while the DRDO would be sending a team to study any further glacial threat, said officials.