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As survivors leave, Kedarnath braces for next spell of rains

June 25, 2013 12:14 IST

Search and rescue operations in Kedarnath and surrounding areas is over for all practical purposes, officials said in Son Prayag on Tuesday.

No more survivors have been found and defence and paramilitary personnel are now wrapping up their mission.

"No survivors remain in the jungles around Kedarnath. They have all been brought out," Ravinath Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Rudraprayag district, said in Guptkashi on Monday.

In Son Prayag, 25-km from Guptakashi, there were only a handful of National Disaster Relief Force personnel present in the morning.

The rest had all returned to Guptkashi by Monday evening.

"Our teams were also in Rambada, Gaurikund and Kedarnath, but they would have returned by nightfall," said an NDRF official.

"Army and paramilitary personnel have minutely combed the jungles in this area. There are no more people trapped here. The survivors have all been moved," he added.

Son Prayag is a landscape of rock and boulders now, with only a strip of water flowing through.

The entire river bed at the confluence of the Son and Mandakini, where once houses, hotels and shops stood, is now a rocky expanse.

Some NDRF personnel had their faces covered with masks and fresh breeze carried the smell of decomposing corpses.

"The bodies cannot be removed. They are far too decomposed for that. We will have to cremate them wherever they are found," Raman had told reporters.

"But the rain will make that difficult. The forecast is for heavy rains in the coming few days," he said.

The toll, he said, was 1,000 on Monday, on the basis of bodies found.

The rest are being taken as missing.

In Delhi, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that the body count may be much higher. Rescue operations had been intensified in view of warnings of rain in the area from Monday onwards.

Although there was a heavy shower on Tuesday morning, causing another roadblock on the route to Son Prayag, it was hurriedly cleared to allow operations to continue in full swing.

The haste was evident.

The coordination committee being run in Guptkashi by locals kept pleading with returning pilgrims as well as the kin of missing persons to move on quickly.

The rains will make matters difficult, they announced over loudspeakers.

Another NDRF official said that the decomposing bodies had to be sprayed with disinfectants.

He admitted there was little hope for missing people.

"It is now more than a week since the cloudburst. Chances of survival are very low for those who have not been brought out by rescue personnel or given shelter by locals. Without food and water, it would be very tough. Also, even a single night in these jungles without any warm clothing and shelter can prove fatal. Remember many of them are old and some would have already been taken ill after the cloudburst. In such circumstances, holding on becomes difficult," he said.

Many would have perished in the first moments of the cloudburst which, he explained, was like an entire column of water descending from the skies with great force and crashing into the mountains.

It would have loosened rocks and boulders and carried people along the surge, swelling every moment.

"Think of a polythene bag filled with water. If you made several tiny holes in it, like in a sieve, water would fall slowly through them, much like rainfall. Now think, if the same plastic bag were to burst, what would happen to the water? It would all come down in one great mass. It can be a terrible destructive force," he added.

The driver of a tourist jeep, who had returned to Son Prayag to fetch his vehicle, said the road from Son Prayag was damaged.

"The entire slope, through which that road had been carved, has been washed away. Repairing the link will be a huge challenge; they will have to, maybe, open another route," he said.

Photograph: Reuters

Kenneth K Mohanty In Son Prayag
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