Dozens of rescuers continued to search for the 24 missing students on Monday, a day after they were swept away by a flash flood in the Beas river in Himachal Pradesh .
“So far four bodies have been fished out of the Beas river,” Director General of Police Sanjay Kumar said.
“At least 84 rescuers are searching along a 14-km stretch from the accident site to the Pandoh dam downstream,” he added. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh visited the site of the accident on Monday.
Officials on duty at the Larji power project upstream have been suspended and an inquiry ordered for allegedly releasing water withour any warning, causing the flash flood.
“I think they were playing in the water,” said a police official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media. “The water rose and they were washed away.” Whether warning signals were sounded before the dam released water is a matter of dispute. The Larji hydroelectric project dam is four kilometre upstream. While the project officials say they had sounded a hooter alarm. This is denied by many locals including the students .
“There was no warning,” said D Naidu, principal of VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology, the college from which 65 students had set off on the trip. “They were trying to take photos on the banks when they were washed away,” he said.
Others disputed the account. Mandeep Singh, an engineer on the dam’s power plant, told a news channel that the staff sounded warnings before releasing the water and local residents “definitely warned the students to come out of the river” several times.
Officials have launched an investigation to determine the sequence of events, said police official Rajesh Kumar, but are now focused on rescue operations to find the rest of the group. “The chances are minimal” to find them alive, he said, “but we’re trying.”