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Uttarakhand disaster: In UP villages, loved ones hover between hope and despair

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Ten years back, Nathu Lal’s elder son Subhash drowned. Now, he is waiting for news on the fate of his younger son, missing since Sunday after the deluge in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. Dharamendra, a labourer at the Tapovan power project, had called their home in Bhulanpur village here last Friday, just two days before the flash flood that was possibly triggered by a glacial burst or an avalanche.

Thirty-one bodies had been recovered till Tuesday afternoon from the disaster area as relief workers raced against time to rescue about 30 others feared trapped in a tunnel at the power plant.

About 175 people are still missing, Nathu Lal’s son among them.

Uttar Pradesh Relief Commissioner Sanjay Goyal said about 70 of the total missing people are from the state, most of them from Lakhimpur Kheri district.

“This includes 34 from Lakhimpur Kheri, nine from Saharanpur followed by five from Shravasti,” he told PTI on Tuesday.

Nathu Lal, who has three married daughters, told visitors that Dharmendra decided to try his luck in Tapovan as a labourer when he saw his fellow villagers earning a decent wage there.

He left home on January 6 or 7 to begin work there.

In Ichhanagar, another village in Lakhimpur Kheri district, three families hover between hope and despair. There has been no contact since the calamity with 15 people, all of them workers at the same hydel project.

At least five of them are related – Shrikrishna (50), his son Raju (22), close relative Jagdish (40) and his son Umesh (21), and another relative Ramtirtha (35).

Tears rolled down the face of Shrikrishna’s wife as she told media persons that Raju had talked to the family on the phone just hours before the calamity.

Raju”s marriage is scheduled in April and his mother and three younger sisters now pray for his return.

Ichhanagar’s Azim told his family that he survived as he had left the Tapovan site for a higher location on Sunday to get the refill for an LPG cylinder. Muzeem from Mirzaganj had also come with him.

But there is no news of their co-worker Bhalbhal, also from Mirzaganj.

Eighteen people from Bhairampur village worked at the Tapovan project. Ten of them had stayed away from work on Sunday and are safe. There has been no contact with the remaining eight, villagers said.

Santosh Bhargava, head of Maanjha panchayat, which incorporates Ichhanagar and Bhairampur villages, rushed to Tapovan when reports of the tragedy came in.

He talked with the managing director of the private construction company, which had recruited labourers from the area.

Bhargava told PTI that the MD has assured all help possible for the victim’s families.

“All the Kheri people were engaged as casual labourers at the Tapovan project and most of them worked at a depth of nearly 40 metres at the site,” he told PTI.

Lakhimpur Kheri district magistrate Shailendra Kumar Singh said a control room has been set up to ensure coordination between authorities and the family members of the missing labourers.

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