The glacial outburst has caused the biggest floods since the 2013 floods, which reportedly killed over 5,000 people in and around the Kedarnath shrine in the state.
The missing persons are mostly employees of two hydropower projects, who were working near the area. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said that as many as 28 persons working on the Rishiganga hydel power project are reported to be missing. Two policemen are also missing.
The Rishiganga project was completely washed off by the floods, as per initial recce. Over five bridges, including two at the entrance of the Malari valley and at Tapovan, were washed away.
The sudden flood in the middle of the day in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers — all intricately linked tributaries of the Ganga — triggered widespread panic and large-scale devastation in the high mountain areas.
Two power projects NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project and the Rishi Ganga Hydel Project were extensively damaged with scores of labourers trapped in tunnels as the waters came rushing in.
The border guarding force has units based in Joshimath, a short distance away, and managed to reach the spot within an hour of the first alert at about 10.45 am.
Several districts, including Pauri, Tehri, Rudraprayag, Haridwar and Dehradun, were put on high alert and forces of the ITBP and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rushed in to help with the rescue and relief effort. The personnel were seen rappelling down steep mountainsides to aid in the rescue work.
Sixteen men were rescued safely from a tunnel in the Tapovan project but about 125 were still missing. As night fell in the ecologically-fragile Himalayas, it became difficult to access areas and carry out the rescue work.
Glorious footage of a labourer being rescued from the sediment inundated area near Tapovan tunnel area by ITBP personnel. Watch full. @IndiaToday #Uttarakhand pic.twitter.com/eGe1oYEISu
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) February 7, 2021
Residences along the way were also swept away as the waters rushed down the mountainsides in a raging torrent. There were fears of damage in human settlements downstream, including in heavily-populated areas. Many villages were evacuated and people were taken to safer areas.
By evening, it was assessed that downstream areas were safe and the Central Water Commission (CWC) said there was no threat to neighbouring villages. However, the water level in the Dhauli Ganga river surged once again on Sunday night under the impact of the glacial burst during the day, creating panic among people living in the area.
The sudden surge in the water level in the Dhauli Ganga at around 8 pm prompted authorities to suspend rescue operations underway to extricate 30-35 people trapped in the debris clogging one of the tunnels at the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project. The rescue efforts will be resumed on Monday morning, the General Manager of the project said.
Swirling waters of the river gurgling downwards are causing fear among people living in the area, he said late Sunday night.
A 13.2 Megawatts small hydro project on the Rishi Ganga was swept away in the glacier burst but 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 earlier in the day.
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.
PM announces ex gratia
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was constantly monitoring the situation in the state.
On Sunday, PM Modi announced Rs 2 lakh ex-gratia for next of the kin of all those who have lost their lives in the massive flash flood caused by a glacier breach near Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.
The Prime Minister also announced Rs 50,000 compensation for those who were seriously injured in the disaster. These amounts will be provided to the victims from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), which is utilised to render immediate relief to families of those killed in natural calamities like floods, cyclones and earthquakes.
The India Meteorological Department informed that there is no rainfall warning in the region for the next two days.
As details of the disaster came in, President Ram Nath Kovind said he was deeply worried about the massive glacier burst at Joshimath, about 295 km from Dehradun. “Praying for well being and safety of people. Am confident that rescue and relief operations on the ground are progressing well,” he tweeted.
In a series of tweets in Hindi, Home Minister Amit Shah said teams of the NDRF were deployed for rescue and relief operations of the affected people while additional troops of the force were being airlifted from Delhi. “Some more teams of NDRF are being airlifted from Delhi and sent to Uttarakhand. We are constantly monitoring the situation there,” he said.
A Home Ministry spokesperson said four NDRF teams (about 200 personnel) were airlifted to Dehradun and would head to Joshimath. One column of the Engineering Task Force (ETF) of the Army, with all rescue equipment, has been deployed.