Dehradun: With the weather improving, the rescue operations in Uttarakhand today picked up pace, with 17 choppers being flown to evacuate people still stranded at various locations.
Mass cremation of bodies in Kedarnath, the worst-affected in flood fury, was on, as authorities were racing against time to minimise risks of epidemic outbreak.
As the sun shone bright this morning, helicopters took off to rescue an estimated 1,237 people now stuck at different places in the hill state, with the Harshil sector totally cleared of pilgrims. About 3,000 people are still reported missing, officials said.
The focus now is on Badrinath Dham area, where majority of the pilgrims are now stranded, they said.
All major roads except the Joshimath-Badrinath, Rudraprayag-Gaurikund and Uttarkashi-Gangotri routes have been reopened, raising hopes of speedy evacuation, they said.
Army chief Gen Bikram Singh arrived this morning at Gauchar to review ongoing relief operations and pay tribute to the 20 soldiers killed in a chopper crash near Gaurikund on Tuesday.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde is also scheduled to arrive in Dehradun to honour the bravehearts who laid down their lives during the rescue operations.
An official estimate said approximately 1,237 persons are now stranded at different places across the state. Till now 1,04,687 persons have been evacuated from different places by road and air.
The process of performing of last rites of those killed in Kedarnath Valley continued, with about 34 bodies being consigned to flames till now, after completion of formalities like their identification and DNA sampling.
All District Magistrates have started distributing 'gratuitous relief' to the affected people, besides trying to ensure adequate availability of kerosene and LPG cylinders, official sources said.
Assessment of the damage caused to the public infrastructure is underway, and restoration work is also being taken up on a priority basis.
Free transport is being arranged for all people till they reach their respective destinations, they said. Special counters have been established in Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Haldwani and Kathgodam.
Special coaches are also being attached in different trains to help the pilgrims reach their destinations.
Free access is being arranged for stranded pilgrims at various places where mobile and landline connectivity is available to enable them to contact their relatives.
Efforts have been geared up to ensure that the near and dear ones of those missing or affected, get updated information regarding the situation on the ground, which is being made available on the state government website (www.uk.gov.in).
Officials said an estimated 3,000 people were missing, and efforts have been intensified to trace their whereabouts. Details and photographs of those missing can be uploaded on the state government website to help authorities in tracking them.