Tapovan Tragedy: When 10 labourers lost race against deadly floods (IANS Special)

It was like a ‘cat and mouse’ race between life and death for a group of around 10 labourers, who were stuck at the Tapovan barrage that got washed following the deadly flash floods triggered by a snow avalanche which wreaked havoc in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on Sunday morning.

The labourers tried their best to flee from one spot to another in order to save their lives, but a strong flow of muddy water swept them away. These labourers are among the list of 174 persons who are still missing, while 32 bodies have been recovered so far follwoing the tragedy.

The fury of the flood at the Tapovan barrage was captured in mobile phones by the locals, who witnessed the wrath of nature from some nearby hills.

Going by the video, it seems that the labourers got information about the flood very late, when they didn’t have much option left to move out of the barrage. To save their lives, the victims climbed atop the barrage to escape the flow of water, perhaps losing 10 crucial minutes in the process which could have made a difference between life and death.

By the time the group of labourers reached the top of the barrage, they had less than 10 seconds in their hands to save themselves. The video clearly shows that they ran from one corner to another to save themselves from the flow of muddy water coming towards them. The labourers then again fled to the previous location on the roof of the barrage after witnessing another current of water flowing towards them.

But it turned out to be the last race for the trapped labourers, as another strong flow of water swept them away. The video clearly shows them falling in the muddy waters from the roof of the barrage. No one knows if they are alive, as their bodies have not been recovered yet.

The 520 MW downstream NTPC hydro power project at Tapovan on river Dhauli Ganga was washed away in the flood that was triggered after a landslide, leading to a snow avalanche covering approximately 14 square km area that caused a flash flood in the Rishiganga river in Chamoli district.

The spokesperson of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) told IANS that the force is now planning to dig the place where the labourers fall after being swept away by the flood water from the roof of the barrage.

“It seems almost impossible that the labourers might be alive, but our force will always try to save lives. We will dig the place and try to find the bodies,” the spokesman told IANS when asked about ITBP’s next plan.

The tragedy occurred at 10 a.m. on Sunday when the avalanche hit the upper catchment of Rishiganga river, a tributary of Alaknanda river in Chamoli, leading to a sudden rise in the water levels of Rishiganga river.

Due to flash floods on account of rising of water levels in Rishiganga, a functional small hydro project of 13.2 MW was washed away. The flash floods also affected the under construction 520 MW NTPC hydro power project at Tapovan on river Dhauli Ganga.

The ITBP has set up its control room in the area and 450 ITBP personnel with all necessary equipment are engaged in the rescue and relief operations.

Five National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have also reached the spot and are engaged in rescue and relief operations along with eight teams of the Indian Army, including one Engineer Task Force (ETF).

(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at rajnish.s@ians.in)