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Beas flash floods: 5 bodies recovered from river, rescue operations underway

Monday, 9 June 2014 - 7:57pm IST Updated: Monday, 9 June 2014 - 7:00pm IST | Place: Kullu (HP)Hyderabad | Agency: dna webdesk

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24 engineering students from Hyderabad were washed away, on Sunday evening, in river Beas near Thalot on Manali-Kiratpur Highway, 40 km from Mandi. It has been alleged that the dam authorities opened the gates of the dam to release water without prior warning.

The sightseeing trip to Himachal Pradesh turned tragic for the tourists when the students, including some girls who were taking photographs at the bank of the river, were swept away by gushing waters of Beas as discharge of water suddenly increased following its release from the reservoir of 126 MW Larji Hydropower Project.  According to information available with authorities in Shimla on Sunday night, 18 boys and 6 girls have supposedly drowned. 

The sudden increase in water levels around the area caught everyone off-guard, as the Project authorities apparently released the water without any warning. An enraged group of people blocked the national highway after the incident. Massive search operations were launched to trace the missing students, but there was no success due to darkness. State officials said the chances of finding the missing students alive are dim. About 20 students, who did not go to the river bank, are safe but were in a state of panic.

Efforts were underway to get the details of missing students from them, S R Mardi, ADGP(CID) said. Soldiers, police and other rescue workers were seen combing the banks of the river, while others in kayaks were paddling slowly downstream, checking around boulders. Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani is on the way to Mandi and has promised all help and support related to the flash floods. "Assure of all assistance and support required from the Centre," a statement released by the HRD ministry said.

Five bodies, including bodies of two girls and one boy, were recovered from river yesterday. People living along the two sides of the river bank downstream of the dam have been alerted to inform the police about any person sighted by them. The incident has sent shock waves and parents and friends of the missing students are making frantic calls to know about their whereabouts.

According to CV Anand, Hyderabad city police commissioner,"When the students were busy posing for pictures in the backdrop of the dam, they met a water grave as flood waters caused by sudden opening of the dam gates had drowned them." There were in all 50 students who were on a study tour to Kulu Manali when the tragic incident occurred. "It appears that the dam authorities did not follow the proper drill before releasing the water in the river", police official said after he spoke to his counter parts in Himachal Pradesh."

Raman Teja, (student, Hyderabad VNR Vigyan Jyoti College), said that the team of students (65 in total) had come to the state for an industrial visit. He said that when they waded into the river to take photographs, the water levels were relatively shallow, but after about 10 minutes a local man shouted to them that the flood gates were open. He said that there he tried to bring his friends to safety, but the water rose quickly.  Teja also said that there were no search and rescue party for three hours and that the police did not respond properly.

The Minister of Civil Aviation, Shri Ashok Gajapathi Raju will visit Manali today to oversee rescue and relief operation for the victims of tragic incident and their family members. The operation is being undertaken in co-ordination with the government of Andhra Pradesh, and steps are being taken to facilitate an airlift of  the parents of the victims to Kullu Manali.

Social activist and entrepreneur, Alok Bhatt tweeted about the ignorance and apathy of both unqualified tour guides and the college authorities who had paid for their services alike, and blamed the calamitous incident on gross misinformation.

According to him, the students were forewarned by locals about the release of the water, but did not pay heed to their warnings.

Bhatt cautioned tourists, and encouraged them to inquire about the conditions in and around dangerous/restricted areas before visiting them.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh on Monday termed the death of the 24 students unfortunate. "Several busses and tourists travel up and down all through the year during the summer season. This is the first time such a tragedy has happened, which is very unfortunate. Students had come from Andhra Pradesh. Teachers should have taken precaution and prevented the students from going into the water. I, however, don't want to blame anyone", Singh said. 

Also Read: Beas Flash Floods: 3 suspended for negligence

He claimed hooters were blown, warning about the opening of sluice gates of the dam, but perhaps went unnoticed by the victims. He also said that the locals tried to warn the students as well. Meanwhile, the Chief Minister ordered a probe on this incident by a divisional commissioner. "I have already ordered inquiry by the divisional commissioner to investigate this matter, whether the hooter was blown or not, and what new measures could have been taken to prevent the tragedy. Any negligence found, and the government will initiate the strictest action against them", Singh added. He also said,"I have been receiving calls from the residence of the Chief Minister of Telangana, besides other sources. One Union Minister and a Telangana state minister are coming here. They are welcome to come ans see for themselves". 

Telangana Home Minister Naini Narsimha Reddy and government officials along with a police team left for Himachal Pradesh on Monday as the tragic news of the 24 students who were washed away in the Beas arrived. Two teams of NDRF comprising of 45 members each have been dispatched to the site to help local authorities in relief and rescue operations, according to a senior official of NDRF. 

Earlier, as the Home Minister reached the airport, some parents of the students tried to encircle him, demanding he provide information about their kin. They alleged that the government had not responded properly to the incident despite getting information from Himachal Pradesh about the mishap. They sought to know what measures the government had taken to locate/trace the missing students and stated that no proper communication was provided to them about the incident. 

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