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Uttarakhand Disaster: 10 Himachali Workers Among 197 Missing, Parents Reach Out to State Govt for Help

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Himachali missing in uttarakhand glacier flood

Shimla-At least 10 persons hailing from Himachal Pradesh, who worked in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, are missing following the massive flash flood that devasted the Rishiganga hydropower project on February 7, 2021. 

These people are among 197 persons still missing or stuck in power project tunnels. So far, 31 bodies have been recovered.

Seven of these missing persons belong to Rampur’s Kinnu and Shingla panchayats, Shimla district. These persons have been identified as Devender Singh, Kailash Chand, Diwan Singh, Ashish, Amit Kumar, Pawan Kumar and Rakesh Kumar. Further, one person from Sirmaur district and one from Kangra district are also missing. These were identified as Gurmeet Verma, Rakesh Kapoor and Jeet Singh Thakur.

Details of one person were awaited. The report was confirmed by the Urban Development Minister Suresh Bhardwaj, who was approached by panchayats members in Rampur with a plea to help.

“We have spoken to the Deputy Commissioner, Shimla, to establish contact with the administration in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, to help trace these missing persons. I would also request the Chief Minister to speak to the Uttarakhand Government regarding this matter,”

Bhardwaj said.

Meanwhile, ecologists, environmentalists, and scientists are now pondering over the possibility of this disaster being man-made due to hydropower projects or climate change. Following this disaster in Chamoli, people in Lahaul-Spiti district, Himachal Pradesh, have opened a front against over 50 hydropower projects prosed to be set up in the region. Panchayats have also passed a resolution to not issue NOCs in favour of these projects and to demand cancellation of construction of these projects for the good of the people and the land.

At the same time, the formation of hundreds of small and large lakes in Himachal Pradesh due to the meltdown of glaciers owing to global warming has created more concerns.

It’s pertinent to mention that environmental groups, like Himdhara, had been warning the government of approving a large number of hydropower projects in the state blindly in pursuit of economic growth. The group had been highlighting about severe environmental hazards linked to the construction of these projects, which the government is not ready to admit. As a result of this deliberate neglection, the villagers, rivers, local water sources, farming lands, local wildlife etc. were suffering, the group had reported. Houses of people were destroyed due to seepage of water from tunnels of hydropower projects and they are forced to evacuate, the group had said in one of its reports. 

However, the government had been preferring its own opinion over theirs.

What Happened in Chamoli?

According to the statement given by the Union Minister Amit Shah, on February 7, 2021, at about 10 am, an avalanche occurred in the upper catchment of Rishiganga River, a tributary of Alaknanda River in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand. It led to a sudden rise in the water level of the Rishiganga River. Due to flash flood on account of rising of water levels in the river Rishiganga, a functional Rishiganga small hydro project of 13.2 MW was washed away. The flash flood also affected the under construction 520 MW NTPC Hydro Power Project downstream at Tapovan on the river Dhauli Ganga.

The satellite data (Planet Lab) from February 7, 2021, shows that in the catchment of Rishi Ganga river at the terminus of the glacier at an altitude of 5600 m a landslide triggered a snow avalanche covering approximately 14 sq. km area and causing a flash flood in the downstream of Rishi Ganga River.

Initial Damage Reported

As per the available information received from the Government of Uttarakhand, 28 persons have died and persons have been injured so far. As per information, a total of 197 persons are reported missing which includes 139 persons of under-construction project of NTPC, 46 persons of the functional Rishi Ganga Project and 12 villagers. The State Government, however, said that it has gathered this information from different sources and this may change.

Twelve persons from NTPC project have been rescued, who were trapped in a tunnel. Fifteen persons from Rishiganga project have also been rescued. In another tunnel of NTPC project, approximately 25–35 persons are suspected to have been trapped. Rescue operation to evacuate these persons is going on.

State Government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 4 lakh each for the next of kin of those who have lost their lives due to the incident.

Due to washing away of one bridge, 13 villages around the place of the incident have been cut off. In these villages necessary supplies and medical assistance is being provided through helicopters, the government informed.

Status of Relief and Rescue Work

As per the statement given by the Home Minister, ITBP has set up their Control Room and 450 personnel of ITBP with all necessary equipment are engaged in rescue and relief operation. NDRF teams have reached the place of incident and are engaged in rescue and relief operation.  Eight teams of Indian Army, including one Engineer Task Force (ETF), are carrying rescue operation at the incident site. One Medical column with two ambulances is also deployed. One diving team of Indian Navy has also reached the incident site for the rescue operation. Five helicopters of Indian Air Force have also been engaged in the rescue operation. A Control Room has been established at Joshimath.

It was informed that despite adverse conditions at the incident site, search and rescue operation is continuously being carried out. After continuous and tireless efforts since night, Army has cleared debris at the opening of the tunnel to rescue the persons trapped in it.

All the staff of the Central Water Commission deployed in Alaknanda and Ganga Basin up to Haridwar are on alert. One team of Sashtra Seema Bal (SSB) is also deployed at the incident site. Team of Snow & Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) /DRDO has also reached the site for surveillance and reconnaissance.

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Kinnaur Landslide: 14 Bodies Recovered in 30 Hours, Several Still Missing

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Kinnaur landslide rescue operation photos

Kinnaur: Landslide in Kinnaur district is unfolding as one of the biggest catastrophe in Himachal Pradesh as the of fatality count continues to rise. After 30 hours of the rescue operation, which was hampered multiple times due to shooting stones at the site, 14 dead bodies had been recovered till the suspension of the operation on Thursday evening. While 10 bodies were recovered on Wednesday, four more were exhumed from the rubble on Thursday.

As many as 15 persons were rescued and taken to Bhavanagar CHC for treatment.

The wreckage of the HP Road Transport Corporation bus was found scattered about 500 meters below the National Highway-5 in Nigulsari – the site of the massive landslide. The condition of the wreckage suggested there was little hope of survival of any passenger. The distraught relatives of the missing persons remained at the site, grieving with diminishing hope to see their family members alive as the rescue operation for today was suspended.

Kinnaur HRTC Bus wreckage

HRTC Bus Wreckage

The state of exhumed bodies added to the horror of the families, as well as, the rescuers. Some of the bodies were in such a state that their identification was next to impossible. While some bodies had their limbs cut off, one of them was found without the head.

As the rescue operation would be entering its third day on Friday, the death toll is likely to rise as the driver of the bus, who had survived the accident and was seriously injured, had estimated that 25-30 passengers were onboard when the landslide pushed it down the NH.

Further, there is still no sign of one vehicle (Bolero SUV), informed Director, State Disaster Management, Sudesh Kumar Mokhta. The exact number of people feared to be buried under the rubble was yet to be ascertained. According to the district administration, based on calls received from families, the number of missing people could be anywhere between 30-50.

Kinnaur rescue operation resumes

Meanwhile, some family members of the missing persons complained that while the rescue operation was initiated immediately from the Negulsari side, JCB machines took over five hours to reach the spot from the Chauri side. They complained that such a big delay was crucial and could have saved more lives.

It’s pertinent to mention that the HRTC bus had remained untraceable on Wednesday and the wreckage was found on the second day of the rescue operation. However, most passengers were yet to be traced.  

According to the Deputy Commandant, ITBP, Dharmender Thakur, shooting stones and sliding rubble posed a huge challenge for the rescue teams, which comprised of hundreds of personnel of NDRF, ITBP, Home-Guards, local police, and CISF. Undertaking this operation on a steep slope further created difficult circumstances for the teams. The lives of the rescuers were also at risk as the site remained vulnerable to reactivation of landslide.

This landslide in the Kinnaur district has become a matter of debate for geologists, environmentalists, seismologists and climatologists. Unscientific cutting of fragile mountains and blasting for the widening of roads and construction of tunnels for hydropower projects, changing patterns of rains, and seismic activity are being referred to be the reasons behind the increased incidents of landslides, especially in Kinnaur district.

At the same time, the inability of the state government to consider technical suggestions given by geological experts from time to time for mitigation of such hazards is also finding mention in the critical comments given by experts. The lackadaisical attitude of the government in the adoption of technologies, such as the early warning system developed by the IIT Mandi for mountainous regions vulnerable to landslides, is also attracting criticism.

It’s pertinent to mention that after the Kotrupi disaster – a massive landslide that had buried two buses and claimed 48 lives in August 2017-experts from IIT Mandi had carried out surveys and studies and provided several suggestions for minimizing damages, which fell into deaf ears.  

The deceased were identified as:

  1. Rohit Kumar
  2. Vanshuka
  3. Meera Devi
  4. Nitisha
  5. Prem Kumar
  6. Gyan Dassi
  7. Devi Chand
  8. Kumari Radhika
  9. Bhupender
  10. Kamlesh Kumar
  11. Lakshman Thapa
  12. Vijay Kumar

Two others were yet to be identified. The state government has announced ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of the deceased and Rs 5o thousand to the injured. HRTC has also announced Rs. 1 lakh ex-gratia to the passengers of the bus killed in the mishap. 

Further, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and several other political leader visited the spot and met the relatives of victims on Thursday. 

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Kinnaur Tragedy: HRTC Bus Wreckage Found, Death Toll Rises to 13 and Likely Rise

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Kinnaur HRTC Bus wreckage

Kinnaur-The rescue operation at the site of the landslide in Nigulsari, Nichar Tehsil of the Kinnaur district, was resumed on Thursday morning. The wreckage of the ill-fated bus of the HP Road Transport Corporation was found 500 meters below the road and about 200 meters above the Sutlej River. The pictures showed that the bus was completely crushed and torn to pieces. 

So far, 13 dead bodies had been recovered and 14 injured including the driver and the conductor of the HRTC bus, which was on its way from Reckong Peo to Haridwar, were rescued and taken to hospital. The death toll is likely to rise as the passengers were yet to be traced. According to the driver, there were 25-30 passengers in the bus when it was hit by the landslide. A Bolero SUV alongwith passengers was also missing and was yet to be traced.  

Kinnaur rescue operation resumes

The mishap occurred at about 12:30 pm on Wednesday. The rescue operation was suspended at 9 pm due to dark conditions and shooting stones, which made the rescue operation difficult.

Till the suspension of the operation, the rescue teams comprising of NDRF, ITBP, Home-Guards, Central Industrial Security Force, and local police had traced three cars and a tipper.  

The rescue teams were searching from two directions and were using drones too.   

Kinnaur tragedy drone picture

The landslide had hit about 200 meters patch of the National Highway-5 – about 10 kilometres away from Bhavanagar.

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Kinnaur Tragedy: 10 Bodies Recovered, Still No Trace of HRTC Bus, 50-60 Persons Feared to be Missing

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Kinnaur tragedy drone picture

Kinnaur: The rescue operation at the site of the landslide in Nigulsari, Nichar Tehsil of the Kinnaur district, was suspended at 9 pm on Wednesday due to dark conditions and shooting stones, which made the rescue operation difficult. The rescue operation would be resumed on Thursday morning, according to the information provided by the district administration.

So far, 10 dead bodies, including those of five women and a child, had been recovered and 13 injured were rescued and taken to CHC Bhavnagar. Though the exact number was not known, 50-60 persons were feared to be buried and were yet to be traced.  

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 7

Source: ITBP

The rescue teams comprising of state NDRF, ITBP, Home-Guards, Central Industrial Security Force, and local police had been carrying out the rescue operation aggressively.

The HRTC bus carrying 25-30 passengers and a Bolero SUV were still untraceable. As earth removers removed the rubble, two cars and a truck were traced, but the bus and the SUV weren’t found beneath the rubble. It’s being suspected that rubble and boulders might have pushed the bus and the SUV down the gorge and into the Sutlej River.

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 5

Source: ITBP

The HRTC bus and a utility vehicle (a Bolero) and their passengers have not been found under the debris. They are still untraceable. Both vehicles may have rolled down with the debris,” informed Director, State Disaster Management Force, Sudesh Kumar Mokhta.

The rescue teams were searching from two directions and were using drone too, informed Deputy Commissioner, Kinnaur, Abid Hussain Sadiq.    

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures

Source: ITBP

The landslide had hit about 200 meters patch of the National Highway-5 – about 10 kilometers away from Bhavanagar. The ill-fated bus was reportedly on its way from Reckong Peo to Haridwar in Uttarakhand via Shimla.

Kinnaur tragedy drone picture

Source: ITBP

The survivors included the drivers of the bus, Mahender Pal, who had first informed his higher officials about the landslide, and the conductor, Gulab Singh.

Meanwhile, ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh was announced for the kin of the deceased and Rs 50 thousand for the injured.

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 3

Source: ITBP

The landslide has again stirred a debate over ecological damages to the fragile Himalayan region due to rampant blasting and tunneling for hydropower projects and cutting of hills for the widening of roads in an unscientific manner. As compared to the previous year, landslides and cloudbursts doubled in 2o21.

Earlier, on July 25, a landslide had claimed nine lives after boulders rolling down a hill hit a tourist vehicle on Sangla-Chitkul NH in the Batseri region in Kinnaur district. 

According to the statement given in the Legislative Assembly, the ongoing monsoon session has claimed 212 lives and caused damages worth over Rs. 500 crores. The death tally would rise as the rescue operation would be resumed tomorrow.

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 2

Source: ITBP

Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 6 Kinnaur rescue operation pictures 4

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