Dehradun: Kedarnath valley, the temple town which was the epicentre of the Uttarakhand rain fury, was on Sunday cleared of all stranded pilgrims, as rescuers battled rains to evacuate 3,000 more people in the disaster in which the death toll is likely to cross 5,000.
With MeT department warning of adverse weather in the region from Monday, the multi-agency operations raced against time to try to rescue remaining 19,000 stranded people stuck in three areas including Badrinath. Air operations had to be also briefly suspended due to bad weather.
As stepped up rescue operations amid intermittent rains led to evacuation of more than 3,000 pilgrims and tourists out of the stranded 22,000 people, the state government said at least 5,000 people must have perished in Uttarakhand in the worst ever deluge to have struck the hill state.
"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 told reporters at the Jollygrant airport on his return from an aerial survey of the affected areas. The official death toll as of yesterday was put at 680 while chief minister Vijay Bahuguna said the death toll is likely to be around 1,000.
However, Arya did not give a specific figure saying extrication of bodies from under tonnes of debris in affected areas which is yet to be taken up may take some time.
ITBP jawans also began constructing foot tracks to speed up evacuation work, offering a "silver lining" for the stranded people.
"New tracks for able-bodied men to move on foot are opening up and that is a silver lining," Air Commodore Rajesh Isser, who is also the Task Force Commander for the IAF, told PTI.
He said air operations are now focussed on areas like Gaurikund and Harshil and other places which were untouched.
In stepped up rescue operations by the Army, ITBP and NDRF amid intermittent rains, more than 3,000 people were rescued from different areas, chief secretary Subhash Kumar told reporters.
Kedarnath valley has been totally evacuated while over 3,000 stuck in Badrinath, Junglechatti and Harshil areas were evacuated to safe locations by the security forces today, he said. Scores of dead bodies lay strewn in Kedarnath area.
A joint combing operation by the security forces will be launched in Kedarnath valley tomorrow morning to ensure not a single survivor remains stuck in Rudraparayag district.
When asked how many more are yet to be evacuated from Badrinath and nearby areas, the chief secretary said the figure should not be more than 7,000.