The Rishiganga power project, in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, was damaged by the floods. Those living alongside the Alaknanda River were urged to flee to safety, but stay calm.
The state’s Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said 140 people were missing at state-run power company, NTPC, while 17 were unaccounted for at the Rishiganga project
“Two bodies have already been recovered,” Rawat tweeted. At least 600 military personnel and Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel were helping rescue operations, he added.
Earlier on Sunday, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams had been sent to deal with the disaster.
Local police said they rescued 16 people trapped at the nearby Tapovan Dam. “A disaster was reported at Raini village at around 10:45 am (12:15 am ET) affecting two dam sites in Chamoli,” said Rawat, who urged people not to spread rumors by using old videos of flooding.
A witness told Reuters that an avalanche of dust, rock and water cascaded down the Dhauli Ganga river valley located more than 500 km (310 miles) north of New Delhi.
“It came very fast, there was no time to alert anyone,” Sanjay Singh Rana, who lives on the upper reaches of the river in Raini village in Uttarakhand, told Reuters by phone. “I felt that even we would be swept away.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a message of support in the wake of the disaster. “Am constantly monitoring the unfortunate situation in Uttarakhand,” he tweeted.
“India stands with Uttarakhand and the nation prays for everyone’s safety there. Have been continuously speaking to senior authorities and getting updates on NDRF deployment, rescue work and relief operations.”
Uttarakhand state is home to the source of the Ganges River, the site of Hinduism’s famous Char Dham pilgrimage and Rishikesh, the meditation retreat popularized by The Beatles. But the area is also prone to flash floods and landslides — in 2013, the state was hit by what was dubbed by the area’s chief minister as a “Himalayan tsunami.”
Nearly 6,000 people lost their lives in floods, according to Reuters.