Man rescued from tunnel screams for joy after glacier collapse sparked floods

Dozens of people are trapped in a tunnel after part of a Himalayan glacier collapsed, sending a wall of water and debris rushing down the mountain.

Thousands of rescuers are searching for survivors in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand after Sunday’s disaster, which has killed at least 11 people, left more than 150 missing and destroyed dams and homes downstream.

Officials said the focus was on saving dozens of workers stuck inside a tunnel at one of the hydropower plants. One man was filmed screaming for joy as he was rescued from the muddy pit.

‘The tunnel is filled with debris, which has come from the river. We are using machines to clear the way,’ a senior police officer said.

It’s feared many more people have died in the floods as rescuers search for bodies that might have been washed away.

The flood was caused when a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier snapped off on Sunday morning, releasing water trapped behind it – in a disaster which experts say could be linked to global warming.

Water rushed down the mountain, forcing the evacuation of many villages along the banks of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers.

Footage shows the muddy, concrete grey 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-coloured moonscape.

A hydroelectric plant on the Alaknanda was destroyed, and a plant under construction on the Dhauliganga was damaged.

Flowing out of the Himalayan mountains, the two rivers meet before merging with the Ganges River.

The trapped workers were at the Dhauliganga plant, where 12 workers were rescued from a separate tunnel on Sunday.

A senior government official told the Associated Press (AP) they do not know the total number of people who were working in the Dhauliganga project.

One of the rescued workers, Rakesh Bhatt, told AP they were working in the tunnel when water rushed in.

‘We thought it might be rain and that the water will recede. But when we saw mud and debris enter with great speed, we realised something big had happened,’ he said.

Mr Bhatt said one of the workers was able to contact officials via his mobile phone.

‘We waited for almost six hours – praying to God and joking with each other to keep our spirits high. I was the first to be rescued and it was a great relief,’ he said.

Some have already started pointing at climate change as a contributing factor given the known melting and breakup of the world’s glaciers.

However, other factors such as erosion, earthquakes, build-up of water pressure and volcanic eruptions have also been known to cause glaciers to collapse.

Research director Anjal Prakash, from the Indian School of Business, said that while data on the cause was not yet available, ‘this looks very much like a climate change event as the glaciers are melting due to global warming’.

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