As the rescue operations in flood-affected districts of Uttarakhand continue to take place, kin of those who went missing after as flood water and sludge choked those working in the Tapovan tunnel are losing their hopes of seeing their family members alive.
As bodies of the workers from the power project tunnel are continually being pulled out, the families waiting for over a week outside the tunnel pluck courage to check if the next body brought out is of a loved one.
But the temporary relief of not seeing a family member amongst the deceased is soon replaced by despair on seeing rescue workforce battling through tonnes of muck that has choked the tunnel that reminds of the time that had passed since the disaster took place on February 7.
Nine bodies have so far been recovered from the tunnel at Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project site pushing the death tally to 54, while officials say 115 people are still missing.
Out of the three bodies recovered from the tunnel on Monday, one is of Satypal Singh Bartwal from Masoli village in the Pokhri area of Chamoli district.
"We hoped Satyapal would return alive. But now we will have to return home with my brother's body. It's unbearable," said his elder brother in a choked voice.
Over a dozen relatives of Bartwal including his brother, who had been camping at Tapovan village since the day the tragedy struck, broke down inconsolably after identifying the body.
The crowd of disheartened relatives at the tunnel site has begun to disperse. Those who remain are found hanging around the mortuary where the bodies are being brought one after another.
Relatives of Jitendra, a resident of Jammu brought out dead from the tunnel on Sunday are also packing up to leave.
"Seven of us had come from Jammu after we heard of the glacial disaster in Chamoli on February 7 and my brother's phone was switched off. We had been scouring different areas of Tapovan and Joshimath for four days in search of Jitendra until his body was brought out of the tunnel on Sunday. It's tragic," Jitendra's younger brother Pavan said.
Alam Singh Pundir's body, the first to be pulled out of the tunnel on Sunday has also been handed over to his relatives who had arrived in Tapovan just a day after the tragedy in search of him.
According to an official of the NTPC, the bodies that have been recovered since Sunday were found in the upside of the adit tunnel.
The bodies being identified now appear to be those of people who were working in the inner parts of the tunnel at the time of the flash floods and apparently ran to the upside in an attempt to get out but got bogged down in the slush gushing in, he said.
However, there are also some who have not given up hope.
The father and father-in-law of Sateshwar Purohit, a resident of Soni village in Chamoli who worked as an electrician and went missing from the tunnel after the avalanche are an example as they are hopeful of his safe return.
"We have absolute faith in God. Our son will definitely return," his father said.
Purohit lives with his family in Tapovan and has two daughters, one of whom is one-and-a-half-years-old. As relatives visit their home to urge their mother to not lose hope, the girls listen without blinking their eyes.
While Purohit’s wife is hopeful, she has her doubts as seven days have passed since she last heard from her husband when disaster struck.
With inputs from PTI