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Navy divers join search

Mandi, June 12: The bodies of two more engineering students swept away in the Beas in Mandi, Himachal, on Sunday were found today, trapped between rocks, as navy divers joined the search.

The youths have been identified as T. Upendra, a resident of Khammam district, and Gomoor Arvind Kumar, who belonged to Hyderabad, Mandi police chief R.S. Negi said. The bodies will be taken home tomorrow.

Twenty-four students of Hyderabad’s V.N.R. Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, on a tour organised by the college, were swept away when dam waters were released into the Beas on Sunday evening. The students, posing for pictures on rocks after wading through what until then was knee-deep water, had no time to escape.

Eight bodies have been found so far, those of five boys and three girls. But 13 boys and three girls, and the tour operator are still missing.

Negi said the search teams had a tough time bringing out the two bodies wedged between rocks today.

A probe has been ordered into allegations that the Largi dam authorities did not sound the mandatory siren before releasing the water. A signboard was put up at the site today warning visitors to keep off the river.

Fifteen navy divers joined the rescue teams, officials said, adding that water in the river has increased with the melting of snow in the hills. Over 550 rescue workers from various agencies under the supervision of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are on the job.

National Disaster Management Authority vice-chairman M. Shashidhar Reddy, who is overseeing operations at the site, outlined some problems in the search.

“Our divers are facing the problem of poor visibility. The riverbed is full of silt and huge boulders and rocks are impediments. It is only through ‘feel’ that the bodies are being recognised. Underwater cameras did not make much success (because of the muddy waters). Now we are going to deploy a UAV,” Reddy said, adding the machine would scan the entire search area.

Reddy said all assistance would be provided for the operation and more equipment and men would be requisitioned if needed.

Telangana home minister Nayani Narasimha Reddy, from whose state many of the students hail, has been in Mandi for the past three days with their parents and relatives while the search continues.

“We were expecting that from today, bloated bodies would start surfacing. But it can take two more days as the water is cold and the process of decay of the bodies is slow,” the minister said.

Himachal chief minister Virbhadra Singh, whose government has been blamed for the tragedy because of the sudden release of water from the dam, said his administration was doing all it could in the search. Singh said all dams had been asked to sound warnings through hooters and from vehicles before releasing water.