5,000 feared killed in Uttarakhand tragedy

Last Updated: Sun, Jun 23, 2013 21:13 hrs

As many as 5,000 people may have been killed in the disaster in Uttarakhand, a state minister said on Sunday, even as help was yet to reach around 19,000 more.

Kedarnath valley, the temple town which was the at the heart of the deluge, was cleared of all stranded pilgrims while thousands more remained stranded in three areas including Badrinath.

Air operations had to be briefly suspended due to bad weather on Sunday even as the met department warned of adverse conditions including more rainfall in the region from Monday.

Rescue operations amid intermittent rains led to evacuation of more than 3,000 pilgrims and tourists while the official death reached 680 on Sunday, even as authorities feared a much higher count.

"At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge that inflicted heavy damage on vast tracts of land especially in Kedarnath valley," disaster management minister Yashpal Arya said.

Speaking to reporters at Jollygrant airport on his return from an aerial survey of the affected areas Arya said extrication of bodies from under tonnes of debris in affected area may take some time.

Over 80,000 people have been relocated so far, including 12,000 on Sunday as the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) deoployed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to locate survivors in inaccessible areas.

The government said that rescue and relief operations continued in full swing as the Jungle Chetti area which was a matter of concern on Saturday has been fully cleared by joint efforts of Army, ITBP and Air Force.

About 125 people have been evacuated from Gauri Kund and about 100 more are still there while around 2,000 people are in Harsil but under the charge of the Army, it added n a media release.

A total 83 aircraft from all agencies have been deployed in the area of which 45 are from IAF, 13 from Army and 25 from the State Government.

Local police have reached Kedarnath and Gauri Kund and process of identification of the dead bodies has begun.

The state government said it is making arrangements for transporting the pilgrims in response to reports that some taxi drivers are making exorbitant charges and are fleecing pilgrims.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) said it evacuated 3,100 people through 250 sorties despite bad weather conditions.

Using cliff assault techniques, skilled mountain rescue troops of Army evacuated 460 by foot through one of the most dangerous Zones in Kedar Valley.

The pilgrims were given food, fresh water, medical aid, blankets and plastic sheets at Gauri Kund Army Camp before further evacuation to Sonprayag.

Launching two columns simultaneously from Dharasu and Barkot, Army reached Hanuman Chetti on Saturday and surged towards Janak Chatti and Yamunotri this morning and evacuated all stranded pilgrims from Yamunotri.

The Army launched Phase 3 of 'Surya Hope' on Sunday which would focus on contingency plan of evacuating people by road from the hubs at Harsil, Gauri Kund and Badrinath.

Inclement weather conditions did not stop Army from continuing its operations both with helicopters and ground troops.

Army helicopters were pressed into service by afternoon at Govindghat and Jungle Chatti. Evacuation was completed within a short span of time due to continuous and relentless efforts.

The Army also air lifted hygiene and sanitation stores and chemicals, blankets, food packets and medicines.

More than 3,000 Kgs have been dumped at major rescue centres. Two medical aid centres each have been opened at Gaurikund, Goucher, Joshimath and Harsil.

With the launch of Burma Bridge across Alaknanda River at Lam Bagar on Joshimath - Bardrinath road, it is now possible for pilgrims to be evacuated by foot from Badrinath to Govindghat.

Vehicular movement is already underway between Govindghat and Joshimath.

More than 1,300 people have been motivated by the Army to move on foot cum vehicles along the 74 Km stretch of road from Harsil to Uttarkashi.

While the intra land slide sectors would be by vehicles, land slides per se will be negotiated on foot. Two administrative and logistics staging areas have been set up at Sukhi and Gangnani for the benefit of people travelling by road.

Meanwhile, the C130 J aircraft undertook a weather recce mission in the morning based on which the IAF helicopters started operation in Harsil Sector and another one carried fuel.

Six AN- 32 sorties airlifted bridging equipment, 50 Para troops with 2,000 kg load, fuel barrels and two IAF Disaster Management Communication Vehicles.

On Sunday the IAF had airlifted about 2,094 persons till 3 PM. It flew about 180 sorties, dropping/landing 20,000 kg of relief material and equipment besides airlifting 210 NDRF and Army personnel.

The progressive effort of the IAF for p Rahat` shows a total of 1,088 sorties flown, 8,222 persons airlifted and about 1,48,550 kg load dropped or landed.

The Indian Railways meanwhile has been running special trains regularly since June 20.

Passengers who were stranded in the flood affected area of Uttarakhand are allowed to travel by the special trains from Haridwar and Dehradun free of charge.

Additional coaches have also been arranged which are being attached to the regular trains to accommodate the flood affected passengers to proceed for their destinations.

Rail officers are camping at Rishikesh, Dehradun and Haridwar stations and coordinating with State authorities to ensure proper dispersal of passengers and also monitoring availability of passenger conveniences at these stations, the Railways said.

Non-governmental agencies have also joined hands with railway authorities at these stations and providing food, water bottles, etc. to the passengers.

State-run teleoms provider BSNL said it has activated helpline numbers 1503 and 09412024365 which are available free of cost from anywhere in the country.

These numbers can be called to get information on the last active location of the BSNL mobile phones of the missing person.

BSNL has also provided free phone facilities at its telephone exchanges, telephone and control rooms at various locations to enable those stranded to contact their families.

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