Rescuers in India digging for 37 trapped in glacier flood

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This photograph provided by National Disaster Response Force shows NDRF personnel prepare to rescue workers at one of the hydropower project at Reni village in Chamoli district of Indian state of Uttrakhund, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Rescue efforts continued on Monday to save 37 people after part of a glacier broke off, releasing a torrent of water and debris that slammed into two hydroelectric plants on Sunday. (National Disaster Response Force via AP)

RUDRAPRAYAG – Rescuers in northern India worked Monday 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 a mountain in a disaster that has left at least 26 people dead and 165 missing.

More than 2,000 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 flood, which destroyed one dam, damaged another and washed homes downstream.

Officials said the focus was on saving 37 workers who are stuck inside a tunnel at one of the affected hydropower plants. Heavy equipment was brought in to help clear the way through a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) -long tunnel and reach the workers, who have been out of contact since the flood.

“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.

Authorities fear many more people are dead and were searching for bodies downstream using boats. They also walked along river banks and used binoculars to scan for bodies that might have been washed downstream.

The flood was caused when a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier snapped off Sunday morning, releasing water trapped behind it. Experts said the disaster could be linked to global warming and a team of scientists was flown to the site Monday to investigate what happened.

The floodwater 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. Video 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. It turned the countryside into what looked like an ash-colored moonscape.

A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed, and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged, said Vivek Pandey, an Indo Tibetan Border Police spokesman. Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.