With the majority of pilgrims evacuated from Badrinath, disposal of bodies lying in affected areas and transportation of relief material to locals in flooded villages on Sunday posed a fresh challenge to authorities in Uttarakhand.
Uncertainty prevailed on the 15th day of the calamity over the number of people killed with conflicting casualty figures doing the rounds. 200 more pilgrims were evacuated from Badrinath to Joshimath on Sunday in five choppers amid government claims of only 500 remaining there with enough food material, medicines and doctors to take care of them. Supplying foodgrains to affected villages is proving to be an onerous task for the administration now as trucks loaded with relief material are stuck at different places in the city in the absence of roads which suffered extensive damage in the floods, official sources said.
Disposal of bodies in worst-hit KedarnathValley is going on but the process is slow due to frequently changing weather, DIG Sanjay Gunjyal told PTI. There was no clarity over the number of people killed in the disaster with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna saying it may be beyond 1,000 and state Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal claiming the figure may cross the 10,000 mark.
Authorities said that the casualty figure would be known after removal of tonnes of debris lying in affected areas. TV footages showed bodies lying in the open in Rambaraarea between Gaurikund and Kedarnath shrine in Rudraprayag district which bore the brunt of the tragedy.
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 this evening, if the weather remains favourable, an official said.
Though a number of roads is still breached or blocked by piles of debris, the Uttarakhand government claimed that several of them have been repaired. The road between Badrinath and Rambara has been set right, officials said. The road between Joshimath and Govindghat has been opened for vehicular traffic, they said, adding that the carriageway between Kund and Chamoli via Okhimath and Chopta has also set right.
Roads between Guptakashi and Gaurikund and Uttarkashi and Gangotri are yet to be opened. Army, BRO and the state engineering departments have been directed to make the highways motorable and carve out mule tracks or footpaths wherever necessary. The government has been assured that at least mule tracks and footpaths would become operational soon, officials said. Medical teams are carrying out DNA sampling operations of the bodies found at Kedarnath.
Cremation of bodies is taking place at various places. A team of super specialists from the central government has already arrived in affected areas and is taking all precautionary measures for the prevention of epidemics or water and airborne diseases, they said. Stranded tourists are being allowed free access to all state guest houses as well as tourist rest houses of the state government and ex-gratia assistance of Rs 2,000 is being provided to them to take care of their routine expenses.
Free transport is being arranged for all people till their respective destinations. Special counters have been opened in Dehradun, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Haldwani and Kathgodam for the purpose, the officials said. Efforts have been intensified to have exact details of the missing persons and a facility has been created in the state website so that the friends/relatives could upload details/photographs of their near and dear ones.