Recovery works would resume today 

Disaster: Incessant slides impeded recovery efforts to rescue the five workers who got buried under the debris when a natural landslide from the left bank dam abutment in Mangdechu hydropower project authority (MHPA) washed down the dam site around 11am yesterday in Trongsa.

Rescue efforts began since noon with attempts to stabilise the slide area by using an excavator to roll loose debris down to the dam pit. Around 10 workers were involved in the recovery works. However, the efforts had to called off around 6pm following risks in deploying workers and machineries under sliding debris.

The five non-Bhutanese workers who were trapped at the south of the dam pit where dam foundation works are underway were employees of Jaiprakash associates limited (Jaypee). Eight other employees who were also working in the dam pit escaped with minor injuries. They are in stable condition.

The slide area, which also caused suspension of dam works recently following a similar slide, is located right above the dam level. Although concrete works were done even on the slide area, its instable geological condition has however damaged the reinforcement works.

The five workers, engaged in electrical works on a water pump around 170 meters below were trapped when huge chunk of debris from the slide struck them. The water pump is used to pump out water from the pit to enable concreting works in the dam foundation.

Eyewitnesses said the five couldn’t manage to escape because the slide was sudden and rapid. “None of them had any chance to escape because the slide just covered them at once,” an eyewitness at the dam site said.

An excavator, some water pumps and at least some portion of concrete dam foundation also remains buried under the debris. The slide also broke the windshield of a mixer truck.

MHPA joint-managing director, Chencho Tshering said their hope of finding any of the five alive has eclipsed.

“Recovery works will continue today since working at night would only risk more lives under persistent slide,” he said. “The huge rock would be blasted so that recovery works can be done safely without risking any injury for the rescue team working in the dam pit below.”

Project officials said that there was no structural damage from the slide to its dam and that the slide was natural. Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk, who was monitoring the situation told Kuensel that about 50-60 truckloads of debris could have slid into the dam pit.

Although the area was eroding from before, the project has reinforced with concrete works, iron railings and wire mesh to protect the falling boulders.

“Even geo-textile mats were used after clearing the loose debris in the area,” an engineer at the dam site said.

Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa