(AP) — Rescuers in northern India were working Monday to rescue more than three dozen power plant workers trapped in a tunnel after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off and sent a wall of water and debris rushing down the mountain.
More than 2,000 members of the military, paramilitary groups and police have been taking part in search-and-rescue operations in the northern state of Uttarakhand after Sunday’s disaster, which has killed at least 11 people, left more than 150 others missing and damaged dams and homes downstream.
Officials said the focus was on saving 37 workers who are stuck inside a tunnel at one of the affected hydropower plants. Excavators had been brought in the help with the efforts.
“The tunnel is filled with debris, which has come from the river. We are using machines to clear the way,” said H. Gurung, a senior official of the paramilitary Indo Tibetan Border Police.
The flood was caused when a portion of Nanda Devi glacier snapped off Sunday morning, releasing water trapped behind it, a disaster experts said could be linked to global warming. The floodwater rushed down the mountain and into other bodies of water, forcing the evacuation of many villages along the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers.
Video from India’s northern state of Uttarakhand showed the muddy, concrete-gray floodwaters tumbling through a valley and surging into a dam, breaking it into pieces with little resistance before roaring on downstream. The flood turned the countryside into what looked like an ash-colored moonscape.
A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed, and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, an Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesman. Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.
The trapped workers were at the Dhauliganga plant, where on Sunday 12 workers were rescued from a separate tunnel.
A senior government official told The Associated Press that they don’t know the total number of people who were working in the Dhauliganga project. “The number of missing people can go up or come down,” S A Murugesan said.
Pandey said Monday that 153 workers at the two plants were missing and at least 11 bodies were recovered.
Those rescued Sunday were taken to a hospital, where they were recovering.
One of the rescued workers, Rakesh Bhatt, told The Associated Press said they were working in the tunnel when water rushed in.