June 8: As many as 24 engineering students from Hyderabad were reported missing tonight after water released from a dam swept them away in the Beas river in Himachal Pradesh.
The students — 18 boys and six girls — were part of a group from the VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, located around 25km from Hyderabad. At least one missing student has a surname that is common in Bengal from where several students go to technical institutes in Andhra.
Altogether 25 people, including a tour operator’s son, were reported missing. The 65-member group, which was heading to Manali for sightseeing and had stopped on the way to click pictures, included 48 students and three teachers. The rest were support staff and tour assistants.
The incident took place around 7pm near Thalot, 61km from Mandi, in Himachal.
Police and officials in Mandi said some of the students had posed playfully for photographs in a knee-deep stretch of the river moments before the dam water rushed downstream sweeping them away.
The students were on their way to Manali for a vacation and sightseeing trip, the police and district administration officials said. Their bus had parked at the side of the road and some students had stepped into the river which was not deep, a police officer said.
“They’re missing for now. It’s dark there, we’ll continue search and rescue with divers and rafts early tomorrow morning,” Rattan Singh Negi, superintendent of police in Mandi district, told The Telegraph around 11pm.
Staff at the Largi Hydroelectric Power Station had released water from the dam after melting of glacial snow had raised the water level behind the dam, the police said. The version could not be confirmed with officials of the power station.
Under standard protocol, the hydroelectric station authorities are expected to sound a loud siren just before they release water from the dam to caution people who might be close to stretches of the river downstream.
“We have conflicting reports whether the siren had been sounded this evening,” Devesh Kumar, deputy commissioner in Mandi district, said. “The station staff say they had sounded the alarm but people downstream say they did not hear it.”
Pratyusha, a second-year student, said she did not hear any warning siren. “Many of my friends are feared drowned,” she said, adding that she had escaped as she reached the riverbank later.
While some managed to reach the bank, others were swept away. “The exact number of students who were swept away is not known as the rescue operation is still on. Some were saved by residents who threw ropes to the students,” Kuldeep Rana, Mandi’s additional SP, said earlier in the evening.
Enraged people blocked the Chandigarh-Manali National Highway.
Telangana chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has directed the home minister and three senior officers to rush to Himachal.