'One Second We Were Taking Pictures, Then it Was All Over'

Published: June 10, 2014 12:31 IST
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Mandi:  As I walked into Hotel River Bank in this sleepy town of Mandi, despite the scrum of cameras, reporters and politicians, there was a sense of grave quiet. This is where 24 students from Hyderabad are staying while they wait for news of their classmates.

Five bodies have been found in the River Beas that flows through Himachal Pradesh. On Sunday evening, the engineering students who were on a college trip, stopped to take photos of the picturesque surroundings.

Within minutes, many of them were washed away as a dam released water - allegedly without any warning. The silence and grief  was thick in the air as I walked into one room from another to talk to students.

Many said they did not want to talk to the media anymore, recounting their story is too painful. Chetan, a second-year student, told me how in front of his eyes his friends were swept away even as he managed to swim to safety. "Seconds before we were all clicking pictures and then it was all over," he said quietly.

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Another second year student asked why the rescue teams were so late to arrive.

But unfortunately most of them will replay the memories of this day without any clear answers.

When we contacted the administration, there were conflicting reports there too, some said a siren was sounded and that students ignored the warning, others like Transport Minister GS Baliwere  more circumspect, saying there was need for an enquiry to find out more.

As I reached the spot of the rescue operations at Pandoh this morning at 8am, the Divisional Commissioner Divesh Kumar was taking stock of the situation. The mighty Beas stretched out in front of me, I pondered when would it be that all the bodies would be found. The summer months have lent the river fuller and more fierce.

The search operations are being conducted by over 550 personnel over a stretch of 15 km. Water level here has now been reduced by four feet. The rescuers include special divers of the army.

The sight of a mother crying, desperately seeking answers left us all numb.

19-year-old Devashish Bose's body was identified by his father, who is inconsolable. His professor, A Aditya, says he was very talkative, enjoyed life and was very talented.

Associate Professor Kiran Chakravarthula, who was accompanying the college tour,  reiterated that there was no siren at the time, there was no fencing, no boards, and the locals did not give a clear warning.

He breaks down as he tells me that he was explaining to one student the composition of a rock when suddenly his feet felt wet and he realised the water level was rising. He saw his students get washed away while he and another student swam to safety and were rescued on the other side.

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