At least 24 students, including six girls, of the VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology in Hyderabad were reported missing after strong currents in the mighty Beas river washed them away. Their chances of survival of the rest of them were bleak, officials said.
More than 60 students and faculty members were on an excursion to the picturesque tourist resort of Manali.
Some of them were getting themselves photographed on the banks of the river in Thalaut area near the Hanogi Mata temple when they were reportedly washed away when the water level rose after discharge from a reservoir of the 126 MW Larji hydel power project around 2km away.
The incident took place in Thalaut on Manali-Kiratpur Highway, 40km from district headquarters Mandi. A massive search operation was launched to track the students, but there was no success due to darkness.
The victims were travelling in two buses.
Rai said one of the bodies was recovered from Pandoh dam, some 20 km downstream, whose floodgates were closed after the accident.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh has ordered a probe and ordered the suspension of erring resident engineer of the 126 MW Larji hydropower project being run by the state electricity board. A case of negligence has been registered.
Union HRD minister Smriti Irani on Monday expressed concern over the shocking incident and assured the state of all possible assistance from the Centre.
Irani assured the state education ministry, held by chief minister Virbhadra Singh, “of all assistance and support required from the Centre”, a statement released by the HRD ministry said.
She also spoke to the faculty of the engineering college in Hyderabad who was accompanying the traveling student group.
The principal of the college was also assured of all cooperation to tackle the tragedy.
Enraged residents of Thalaut and surrounding areas blocked the national highway after the incident, accusing the hydropower project authority of releasing the water without warning.
The incident sent shock waves, and parents and friends of the missing students made frantic calls to know about their whereabouts.
“I am deeply pained over the tragic incident of engineering students getting drowned in a flash flood in Himachal Pradesh,” home minister Rajnath Singh said on his official Twitter account.
A local official blamed the surge of water on the hydroelectric power plant for the tragedy.
“The water was released by the Larji power project dam,” AFP quoted senior state official Rakesh Kanwar as saying.
(With inputs from agencies)