Rescuers in northern India are working 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 2000 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 nine people, left some 140 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 were brought in to 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.
A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged when the Nanda Devi glacier partially split on Sunday night (AEDT).
Amid cheers and relief from rescuers, 16 people were pulled out of one of the tunnels, while at least 30 others remained stranded inside the other, he said.
“The rescuers used ropes and shovels to reach the mouth of the tunnel. They dug through the debris and entered … They are yet to come in touch with the stranded people,” said Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat.
“Devastating scenes after the collapse of a glacier in Uttarakhand, India,” wrote Senator Penny Wong.
“Our thoughts are with the many victims, their families and the brave rescue teams working to free those still trapped,” she said.
The flood was caused when a portion of the glacier snapped off, releasing water trapped behind it, authorities said.
It 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.
Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.
Police official Surjeet Singh said at least nine bodies were recovered.
Mr Rawat said authorities were able to save other hydropower units downstream because of timely action taken to release water by opening gates.
The floodwaters also damaged houses, said Ravi Bejaria, a government spokesman, though he had no details on the number and whether any residents were injured, missing or dead.
“It all started sometime around 10 in the morning. We heard a bang, which shook our village,” said Dinesh Negi, a resident of Raini village.
He said they watched from high above one of the rivers as the water turned muddy and surged in a torrent.
“We knew something wrong had happened,” Mr Negi said. “We could see the fury of the river.”
Scientists have long known global warning is contributing to the melting and the breakup of the world’s glaciers.
Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct professor at the Indian School of Business who has contributed to UN-sponsored research on global warming, said while data on the cause of the disaster was not yet available, “this looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming”.