Tunnel flooding claims dozen workers at India's 99-MW Chujachen

Authorities say at least 12 laborers died in a flooded tunnel when flash flooding overtopped a cofferdam at the construction site of the 99-MW Chujachen hydroelectric project in India's East Sikkim District.

Official reports indicated heavy rains in the catchment area triggered a flash flood on the Rongli River at Rangpo Dam. Indian media said overflowing water swept away a partially completed concrete cofferdam and flooded an access tunnel under construction.

The water level rose over the 19-meter-tall cofferdam and could not be adequately discharged by an adjoining diversion tunnel. It then surged into the access tunnel, where reports said 18 laborers were drilling.

Gati Infrastructure Ltd. is building the dam to impound water for Chujachen. Coastal Energy of India is building the cofferdam and tunnels.

The Chujachen project has two interconnected reservoirs with two intakes and two headrace tunnels that lead to a two-unit powerhouse.

Officials say investigations will be carried out to determine whether there was any negligence by the project developers.

Eight people have died in separate incidents at the project over the past year, The Telegraph newspaper reported. In March 2009, one laborer was buried alive and two were injured when a portion of an underground tunnel at the project caved in after heavy landslides.

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