LUCKNOW – Indian rescue crews struggled to reach trapped victims Sunday after part of a glacier in the Himalayas broke off and released a torrent of water and debris that slammed into two hydroelectric plants. At least nine people were killed and 140 were missing in a disaster experts said appeared to point to global warming.
Video from India's northern state of Uttarakhand showed the muddy, concrete-gray floodwaters tumbling through a valley and surging into a dam, breaking it into pieces with little resistance before roaring on downstream. The flood turned the countryside into what looked like an ash-colored moonscape.
More than 2,000 members of the military, paramilitary groups and police took part in the search-and-rescue operation, including soldiers expert in mountaineering, working into the night under bright halogen lights, authorities said.
The flood was caused when a portion of Nanda Devi glacier snapped off in the morning, 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.
A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed, and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the paramilitary Indo Tibetan Border Police. Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.
Pandey said at least 42 workers were trapped in two tunnels at the Dhauliganga project. Twelve were rescued from 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 the tunnel. They are yet to come in touch with the stranded people,” said Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, Uttarakhand’s top elected official.
An additional 140 workers at the two plants were missing, Pandey said. Surjeet Singh, a police official, said at least nine bodies were recovered.