JOSHIMATH – As hundreds of rescue workers scoured muck-filled ravines and valleys on Tuesday looking for survivors after the sudden collapse of a Himalayan glacier, distraught relatives gathered at the disaster site to search for family members, almost resigned to the likelihood they were dead.
The disaster was set off when part of a glacier near Nanda Devi mountain broke off Sunday morning, unleashing a devastating flood that left at least 32 people dead and 165 missing.
Scientists are investigating what caused the glacier to break — possibly an avalanche or a release of accumulated water. Experts say climate change may be to blame since warming temperatures are shrinking glaciers and making them unstable worldwide.
The floodwater, mud and boulders roared down the mountain along the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers, breaking dams, sweeping away bridges and forcing the evacuation of many villages while turning the countryside into what looked like an ash-colored moonscape.
It swept away a small hydroelectric project and damaged a bigger one downstream on the Dhauliganga. Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.
One of the major rescue efforts is focused on a tunnel at a hydroelectric power plant where more than three dozen workers have been out of contact since the flood. Rescuers used excavators and shovels to clear sludge from the tunnel in an attempt to reach the workers as hopes for their survival faded.
In the distance, some families tried to identify their loved ones and grieved for the dead.
No one has been rescued from the tunnel since Sunday, with chances for a miracle declining with each passing moment. It could still take days or weeks before many bodies are found.