Ten escape through a small hole

PHPA II: At least six men were confirmed buried alive inside the downstream surge chamber of Punatsangchu Hydropower Project Authority-II powerhouse yesterday when loose soil and muck from above fell on them blocking the entrance to the chamber.

The powerhouse is few meters away from Kamichu bazaar above the Wangdue-Tsirang highway road. The incident occurred at around 1am when labours were working on their night shifts, said the project’s Managing Director R N Khazanchi who had rushed from Thimphu to the accident site.

The surge chamber, he said measures 340 metres in length, of which the loose-soil and boulders fallen inside measured 100 to 160 metres. The muck is estimated to be around 34 metres high and 18 metres wide in size.

He said all the buried men were Indian, and includes a boomer operator, an electrician and four laborers working for Jai Prakash associates, a contractor with Punatsangchu project. Two machines, a Cifa and a boomer were also buried.

R N Khazanchi confirmed that there were 17 Jai Prakash labourers working at the particular spot during accident. One had reportedly bunked after completing half of his shift-time and escaped the accident.

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An official shows where the accident happened

A PHPA supervisor was also deployed at that site. However he left the chamber following a stomach upset, said the managing director. “As soon as he came outside he heard the sound of muck falling inside the chamber.”

The managing director also said that another 10 escaped through a small hole despite continues falling of soil and boulders. They suffered bruises on their hands and body and were referred to the project’s health centre.

Project officials at the site said the soil continued to fall from above till around 2:30pm yesterday, and frequency was recorded to as seven to nine times in an hour. This has hampered rescue efforts.

“We are thinking of an immediate remedial measures and long-term measures,” said R N Khazanchi. The immediate measure is to ensure that nothing falls from above further. Since people are buried under the muck, things are very sensitive and have to be taken carefully, he said.

Khazanchi said that they have informed both the high authorities in Delhi and Thimphu. A team of three experts would reach Bhutan today.

“We are doing everything possible to assess the situation and all concerned heads were deployed at the site since 1:30am, yesterday,” said a project official. The chairman of the Punatsangchu board, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk is also set to visit the site today.

Project officials said this was the first incident at the project site ever since it was started in 2011.

Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue


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