Hyderabad: Bodies of five of the 24 students, swept away in Himachal Pradesh on Sunday, were flown back to their hometown Hyderabad. A plane carrying 22 survivors of the group also returned to the city.
Despite massive search operations by the Centre and Himachal Pradesh governments, with assistance from the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments, the chances of finding any survivors from Sunday’s tragedy at Beas river look bleak.
More than 30 hours after the accident, as officials failed to rescue any of the 24 students who were washed away in the swirling waters, it is being feared that all of them have met a watery grave.
Mr Pankaj Rai, a senior Himachal Pradesh IPS official, said that the toll could rise as all the missing were feared dead. Rescue workers on Monday recovered the bodies of five students.
The survivors of the Beas mishap saw horror unfolding in front of their eyes when swirling water came rushing towards them and washed away their friends who were clicking pictures on the rocks in the riverbed.
G. Rishika said that she was pushed to the riverbank by one of her classmates when the water level started rising suddenly. When she got up from the ground, she could not find who pushed her. “Those behind us had gone with the water,” she said. Her friend Prathyusha, who was standing beside her, also escaped in a similar manner.
Ms Rishika told her mother that her friends had gone down to the riverbed to click photos. “I called my daughter soon after I came to know about the incident. She was shocked and said half of her classmates had been washed away,” said Ms Rishika’s mother Manjula.
The students said that the water level rose to several feet suddenly, making it difficult for them to stand. “We were all sitting on the rocks, taking photos. There was a big rock in the middle of the river and everyone wanted to reach the top of that rock. Some made their way to it by stepping on some smaller rocks. After about 10 minutes, the water level started rising. I was upstream and I noticed it first. I began screaming, trying to alert everyone as I rushed back,” a shocked T.V. Suharsa said.
Few students made futile attempts to rescue their friends. “Few were trying to hold others’ hands and trying to pull them back, but it was in vain as the water level rose in a few seconds,” said another student.
Another survivor, Ravi Kumar, said, “I tried to alert my friends but by then the water level had shot up.”
Though official help came much later, villagers came to help the victims. “The locals were also helping us. About 15 to 20 students were washed away in front of us. I could just see the head of one student but I didn’t know if he was still alive. I threw a rope towards him but he just disappeared,” one of the students said.
Meanwhile, the students, who survived the mishap, alleged that the water from the Larji project was discharged suddenly and without any warning. They said there were no signboards at the spot, and nor was there a siren before the water was released.
Telugu Desam leaders also accused the Himachal Pradesh officials of negligence and inefficiency. “Water was released without permission or issuance of forewarning,” an official release of TD said.
However, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh claimed hooters were blown, warning people of the opening of sluice gates of a dam Mr Singh said even the locals tried to warn the students. He has, however, ordered a probe into the incident.
Andhra Pradesh government has announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of the 24 students who were washed away.
Announcing the ex-gratia, Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said that this would be in addition to Rs 1.5 lakh announced by the Himachal Pradesh government.
“So far five bodies have been fished out while efforts are on to recover other bodies. Union Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapati Raju, state minister P Narayana and ex-MP K Ramamohan Rao are camping in Mandi and monitoring the rescue operations,” Chandrababu said.
“I spoke to HP CM Veerbhadra Singh over phone today and inquired about the operations. He explained the efforts being made to trace out the bodies,” Chandrababu said.