Chinese among trapped after landslide blocks Nepal tunnel

KATHMANDU Fri Apr 25, 2014 8:45am EDT

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - At least a dozen workers including Chinese technicians have been trapped by a landslide inside the tunnel of a hydroelectric power project in Nepal, a project official said on Friday.

A few Chinese technicians were working with about 12 Nepali workers inside the tunnel of the Upper Madi Hydroelectric Project in Kaski district, 125 km (80 miles) west of Kathmandu, when falling earth and rocks blocked its entrance.

"Excavators are removing the debris and we are trying to rescue those trapped inside," said Ram Raj Koirala, a Nepali official at the power station being built by a Chinese firm.

"We have been able to send drinking water and air inside the tunnel and we are hopeful of rescuing them in three to four hours," Koirala told Reuters from the site. He said the workers were safe but declined to elaborate.

The project would generate 25 megawatts of power in the energy-starved country. The China International Water and Electric Corporation owns 80 percent in the $650 million plant while the project's Nepali backers own the rest.

Nepal has the potential to generate up to 83,000 megawatts of hydro-power from rivers cascading down from the Himalayas, the world's highest mountain range.

But due to a lack of funds and technical know-how, just one percent of that potential has been tapped. Nepal's 27 million people typically endure 12 hours of power cuts a day.

China is a major donor, business partner and investor in Nepal, a strategically located buffer state between China and India. Many Chinese companies are involved in infrastructure projects that include hydroelectric power.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Robert Birel)

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