JOSHIMATH, India (AP) – Hundreds of rescue workers searched the ravines and valleys filled the North Indian cavity for survivors on Tuesday after a part of a Himalayan glacier erupted and released a devastating flood that killed at least 31 people and killed 165 man missing.
One rescue effort is focused on a hydroelectric tunnel where more than three dozen workers have been out of contact since Sunday’s flood. Ambulances used machine excavators and shovels to clean the mud from the tunnel overnight to try to reach the workers while hopes of survival faded.
The disaster was triggered when part of a glacier near Mount Nanda Devi broke down on Sunday morning. Scientists went to the scene to investigate what caused the fracture and flood – possibly an avalanche or accumulated water. Experts say climate change could be to blame as warming temperatures reduce glaciers and make them unstable worldwide.
Floods, mud, and rocks rumbled down the mountain along the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers, breaking dams and sweeping bridges, forcing the evacuation of many villages while turning the countryside into an ash-colored lunar world.
The flood swept away a small hydropower plant and damaged a larger one in the Dhauliganga flow direction. The two rivers flowing out of the mountains of the Himalayas meet before merging with the river Ganges.
The strength of the roaring water wall was first noticed by the villagers on the slopes of the valley.
Rajeev Semwal heard a sound like roaring clouds, then watched as Alaknanda’s usually blue water would be muddy.
“I understood that a disaster really happened,” said Semwal, a resident of Tapovan village in Uttarakhand state, where the power plant is located.
Semwal’s brother-in-law and younger brother both worked at the power plant. His younger brother was in the flooded tunnel and had not heard of him since.
Most of those missing were people working on the two projects. Some of the government’s plants have been built on several rivers and tributaries in the mountains of Uttarakhand state.
Ambulances said it was difficult to predict how long it would take to open the tunnel because of the heavy mud inside, but they hope to find people still alive.
“It’s a very big challenge, but we’ll do our best and do our best,” said Aditya Pratap Singh, deputy commander of the National Disaster Response Force.
What Home Secretary Shah told Parliament is that rescue efforts are “on their feet”. According to him, there is no risk of flooding in low-lying areas of the region.
The ecologically sensitive Himalayan region is prone to lightning and landslides.
It is estimated that in 2013, more than 6,000 people lost their lives in the floods caused by the worst monsoon rains in recent decades.