RPT – ‘We stay’: Distraught families await news of missing after deadly floods in India

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RPT - 'We stay': Distraught families await news of missing after deadly floods in India

(Repeats story first published Wednesday)

By Alasdair Pal

TAPOVAN, India, February 10 (Reuters) – When Tarun Dev first saw reports of flooding in the Himalayas in India, he got scared.

His brother, Jugal Kishore, a 35-year-old electrical engineer, was one of 70 workers at the Rishiganga hydropower project when a flash flood on Sunday destroyed two power plants and left more than 200 people missing.

The family immediately left their home in the Punjab.

“Since Monday we’ve been at this place,” he said, walking cautiously on the warped floor of what was once the staff boarding house, weakened by a thick layer of mud.

“I called his phone, it was ringing until this morning,” he said. “If his phone survived, maybe he did.”

Rescuers were standing near a crater containing body bags, but Dev said he refused to give up hope.

“Until we have the body, we stay.”

Hundreds of police, military and specialists ranging from engineers to drone pilots are working at the site of the disaster, the cause of which is not yet certain.

Originally thought to be a glacier that breaks and crashes into the river, some scientists now say it was more likely to be due to an avalanche.

Four days after the start of the rescue efforts, the chances of survival are diminishing, say those involved in the operation.

Many of the missing men are migrant workers, supporting entire families in their countries of origin. Others are locals drawn to one of the region’s few stable sources of income.

Sati Negi’s brother, Patminder Bisht, 30, is one of 30 workers trapped hundreds of meters in a service tunnel at the largest Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project downstream. She and her sister, Deepa Chauhan, spent the week waiting at the mouth of the tunnel for rescuers to show them photos and videos after they emerged.

“He’s a good husband and a good father,” she said, as excavators pulled mud from the well. “He has two daughters and one of them has a sick heart. What will they do if he doesn’t come back?”

In Rishganga, the low quarters of the staff meant that many of them had little chance of reaching safety.

Kamal Chauhan, the site’s project manager, 38, was on his way to breakfast on Sunday morning when he heard villagers screaming on a nearby hill.

Looking up, he saw a cloud of mud and dust roaring in the valley.

And so he ran, calling on his men to follow him to higher ground as he quickly approached, destroying everything in his path.

Only a few of them made it on time, he said.

He stayed to help show the police where to look for the bodies. But his thoughts are elsewhere.

“I can’t explain how I’m feeling,” he says. “My mind doesn’t know what to think.”

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