Eighteen people were confirmed dead on Monday and at least 200 others were missing after a devastating flash flood in India thought to have been caused by a chunk of glacier breaking off.
The resulting wall of water and debris barreled down a tight valley in India’s Himalayan north on Sunday morning, destroying bridges, roads and hitting two hydroelectric power plants. “There was a cloud of dust as the water went by. The ground shook like an earthquake,” local inhabitant Om Agarwal told local Indian TV.
The Uttarakhand state government said on Monday 18 bodies have been recovered, and chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said at least 200 people were still unaccounted for.
Most of those missing were working at the two power plants. Some were trapped in two tunnels cut off by the floods and by mud and rocks. “If this incident happened in the evening, after work hours, the situation wouldn’t have been this bad as laborers and workers in and around the work sites would have been at home,” Rawat told reporters.
Twelve people were rescued from one of the tunnels on Sunday but 25-35 more were still trapped in the second one, state disaster relief official Piyoosh Rautela told news agency. With the main road washed away, paramilitary rescuers had to scale down a hillside on ropes to reach the entrance. Emergency workers were using heavy machinery to remove tonnes of rocks.
“Approximately 80 metres (260 feet) inside the tunnel is cleared and accessible. It appears that approximately 100 metres of debris inside the tunnel is yet to be cleared,” said Vivek Kumar Pandey, another disaster official.
Several hundred rescue workers resumed their search operation at first light on Monday including national and state disaster response teams, the army and navy diving teams.