Families angry as hope fades for workers in India glacier tragedy

Desperation grows among families of 39 workers trapped in a tunnel after a Himalayan glacier burst on Sunday, causing a deadly flash flood.

Rescue workers at the tunnel in Tapovan village where 39 people are trapped since Sunday [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]

Joshimath, Uttarakhand – Anger is growing among the families of 39 workers trapped in a tunnel after a deadly flash flood caused by the bursting of a Himalayan glacier destroyed two hydropower projects on Sunday.

Four days after tonnes of rocks and slush blocked the under construction tunnel at Tapovan Dam in Uttarakhand state, desperate families on Wednesday jostled with people in the village, expressing their anger with the administration over the handling of the rescue operation.

Swati Bhadouriya, the district magistrate of Chamoli, some 278km (173 miles) east of the main city of Dehradun, told Al Jazeera that one body was found on Wednesday morning, taking the death toll in the tragedy to 32 while over 170 people are missing.

Members of India’s National Disaster Response Force near Tapovan tunnel [Bilal Kuchay/Al Jazeera]

The families of those missing allege not enough is being done by the authorities and time was running out for their loved ones trapped inside the 2-km (1.24-mile) tunnel. Officials said they have not been able to go beyond 120 metres.

But the workers’ families said the rescue team, which includes hundreds of paramilitary personnel and members of National Disaster Response Force, were taking “too much time” to clear the debris and have been giving “conflicting reports in the media” about the rescue mission.

“If anyone in the administration in the true sense believes the workers inside the tunnel are alive, then this operation shouldn’t take such a long time,” said Abdul Wajid, 30, from Saharanpur district of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state.

Wajid’s younger brother, Sadiq – a father of three – along with four others from the district had started working at the Tapovan tunnel last week.

They were supposed to finish their work by Sunday evening and return to their hometown on Monday, said Wajid, adding that destiny had something else in store for them.

Babu Ram’s brother Pramod Sen was also working inside the tunnel on Sunday.

“Four days have passed since the tunnel was blocked by the slush and still the rescue teams have not been able to find the people trapped inside,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We have lost every hope now. We don’t think our loved ones are still alive. We just want the administration to return the bodies of our loved ones safely.”

Piyoosh Rautela, a senior disaster relief official, told Al Jazeera they are working round-the-clock to find the workers and that the rescue operation was taking long because they cannot send too many machines inside.

“It was a tunnel and people were working inside. Debris came and choked the tunnel. We don’t know how far the debris has gone,” he said.

Rautela said he understood the agony of the families but they were “not aware of the practical realities which people face in the Himalayas”.

“These are fast flowing torrents. A person who is washed away in this may or may not be traced,” he said.

“Three days are not a long time, people do survive longer periods trapped at various places. There have been instances. We are hopeful that we will find them.”

Source: Al Jazeera