Over 200 pilgrims were taken to safety from Badrinath today with the Uttarakhand government saying that only 500 more remained there with adequate food and medical care even as disposal of bodies in affected areas and transportation of relief material posed a fresh challenge.
Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said a 200-member team consisting of officials of various departments, including police, health, animal husbandry experts and sanitation, is being sent along with equipment provided by the NDRF to both Kedarnath and Rambada to extricate the bodies from the debris and expedite the process of their disposal.
The last rites of those killed in Rambada too is likely to start in a couple of days, he told reporters here after a meeting of top officials to review the current situation in the flood-ravaged state.
"Clearing tonnes of debris lying in the affected areas and extricating decaying bodies which may be lying under them is our top most priority at the moment," DGP Satyavrat Bansal, who attended the meeting along with Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar, said.
"34 bodies have already been cremated in Kedarnath shrine area and 55 to 60 more which are visible on the ground are yet to be cremated and the process will be taken up on a war footing by a rescue team considering the threat of an epidemic outbreak 15 days after the calamity," he said.
Uncertainty prevailed on the 15th day of the calamity over the number of people killed with conflicting casualty figures doing the rounds.
While the chief minister has stated the death toll may cross the 1,000 mark, the state Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal had said yesterday that the figure may be more than 10,000.
With the majority of pilgrims evacuated from Badrinath, disposal of numerous bodies lying in affected areas and transportation of relief material to locals in flooded villages posed a fresh challenge to authorities.
The state authorities were facing difficulties in transporting relief material and performing the last rites as a large number of roads still remained breached or blocked due to debris from landslides.
Officials said despite the odds, over 274 trucks carrying foodgrains and other essentials have been dispatched to about 16 affected locations in the worst-hit Rudraparayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.
Around 200 more pilgrims were evacuated from Badrinath to Joshimath on Sunday in five choppers and the government said that only 500 remained there with enough food material, medicines and doctors to take care of them.
Disposal of bodies in Kedarnath valley is going on but the process is slow due to frequently changing weather, DIG Sanjay Gunjyal told PTI.
The authorities said the casualty figure would be known only after removal of tonnes of debris from the affected areas.
An official estimate said about 550 people are still stranded at different locations across the state.
Evacuation from Badrinath is expected to be over by Sunday evening, if the weather remains favourable, the officials said.
Meanwhile, Congress general secretary in charge of party affairs in Uttarakhand, Ambika Soni arrived here for a second visit after the tragedy struck.
"Sonia Gandhi is highly concerned about the welfare of the people of the state and I am here to see if relief material is reaching the affected people," she told reporters.