More than 170 people are still missing after a barrage of water and debris hurtled with terrifying speed and power down a valley on Sunday morning, sweeping away bridges and roads and hitting two hydroelectric plants.

Rescue team members work near a tunnel after a part of a glacier broke away and caused floods in Tapovan, in Uttarakhand, India, February 8, 2021.
Rescue team members work near a tunnel after a part of a glacier broke away and caused floods in Tapovan, in Uttarakhand, India, February 8, 2021. (Reuters)

Time is running out to save dozens of people trapped inside a tunnel three days after a devastating flash flood likely caused by a glacier burst in India’s Himalayan north.

Thirty-two bodies have been found so far, officials said on Wednesday. It may take days for more bodies to be found under the tonnes of rocks and other debris and the thick blanket of grey mud.

Members of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) carry the body of a victim found in the debris during a rescue operation outside a tunnel after a part of a glacier broke away, in Tapovan in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, February 9, 2021.
Members of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) carry the body of a victim found in the debris during a rescue operation outside a tunnel after a part of a glacier broke away, in Tapovan in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, February 9, 2021. (Reuters)

Twenty-five of the bodies were yet to be identified. 

Many of the victims are poor workers from hundreds of miles away in other parts of India whose whereabouts at the time of the disaster may not have been known.

The main focus of the massive rescue operation, under way day and night since Sunday, is the tunnel. It is located near a severely damaged hydroelectric plant that was under construction at Tapovan in Uttarakhand state.

READ MORE: Several dead, scores still missing after glacier disaster in India

Rescue team still hopes to reach 34 people alive 

Workers there have been battling their way through hundreds of tonnes of sludge, boulders and other obstacles to try and reach 34 people who rescuers hope are alive in air pockets.

"As time passes, the chances of finding them are reducing. But miracles do happen," Piyoosh Rautela, a senior state disaster relief official said.

"There's only so much that one can do. We can't push in multiple bulldozers together. We are working round the clock – man and machinery – we are all working round the clock. But the amount of debris is so much that it's going to take a while to remove all that," he said.

Vivek Pandey, a spokesman for the border police told the Times of India that if the 34 are alive, the biggest concern is hypothermia, "which can be fatal in such conditions".

General view of the place where members of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) conduct a rescue operation, after a part of a glacier broke away, in Tapovan in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, February 10, 2021
General view of the place where members of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) conduct a rescue operation, after a part of a glacier broke away, in Tapovan in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, February 10, 2021 (Reuters)

Outside the tunnel there were medical teams on standby with oxygen cylinders and stretchers, as well as anxious relatives.

Shuhil Dhiman, 47, said that his brother-in-law Praveen Diwan, a private contractor and father of three, had driven into the tunnel on Sunday morning with three others when the flood hit.

"We don't know what happened to him. We went near the tunnel but there are tonnes of slush coming out. The tunnel has a sharp slope from the opening and I think water and slush has gone deep inside," Dhiman said.

"I am hoping against hope," he said. "The authorities are doing their best but the situation is beyond anyone's ability."

Maxar's WorldView-1 satellite image shows a close-up view of the under-construction Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower plant project along the Dhauliganga River in the Uttarakhand region of India in the aftermath of glacial collapse and flash flood, February 9, 2021.
Maxar's WorldView-1 satellite image shows a close-up view of the under-construction Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower plant project along the Dhauliganga River in the Uttarakhand region of India in the aftermath of glacial collapse and flash flood, February 9, 2021. ()


The disaster has been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming. 

Building activity for dams, the dredging of riverbeds for sand and the clearing of trees for new roads – some to beef up defence on the Chinese border – are other factors.

READ MORE: Several dead, 140 missing as glacier breaks in northern India

Source: AFP