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Rediff.com  » News » 40,000 await help as rain threat looms in the hills

40,000 await help as rain threat looms in the hills

Last updated on: June 22, 2013 21:43 IST

40,000 await help as rain threat looms in the hills

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Rescuers on Saturday recovered 123 bodies from Kedarnath premises which bore the brunt of the calamity in Uttarakhand, taking the death toll to 680 as the hill shrine was totally evacuated.

"Kedarnath has been totally evacuated of pilgrims now and the next step would be to evacuate pilgrims from Badrinath where nearly 8,000 people are still stranded," Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters in Dehradun.

Admitting the huge scale of havoc wreaked by the deluge on the state, the Chief Minister said the casualty figures are certainly far higher and can easily touch the one thousand mark.

A senior state government official said 123 bodies have been recovered from Kedarnath where a team of experts went today to a take count of bodies strewn all over the place.

More bodies may come to the surface in the next couple of days as the slush and debris lying in the area is removed, said the official who did not want to be quoted.

Bahuguna said both central and state governments are trying their best to rescue people still stranded in the affected areas with 44 helicopters and a huge number of army and para-military personnel engaged in the rescue operations.

Racing against time in the face of predicted adverse weather, over 10,000 people have been evacuated from various upper reaches of flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, including the worst-affected Kedarnath.

 


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Image: Soldiers try to repair a temporary footbridge over River Alaknanda after it was destroyed, during rescue operations in Govindghat in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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680 dead, 40000 await help as rain threat looms

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Having gone without food or water for nearly a week, scores of pilgrims are on the verge of death, while others who managed to reach Sonprayag on foot have complained that rescue operations are yet to reach those stranded between Gaurikund and Kedarnath.

Many pilgrims have already died of hunger and many are searching for the dead bodies of their kin in the jungles over Gaurikund, Bhairavchatti, Junglechatti and Garurchatti, said several pilgrims, who somehow managed to reach Sonprayag from Kedarnath on foot.

In Sonprayag, an ITBP officer said their first pedestrian rescue team has reached Gaurikund and has begun to shift pilgrims stranded in high altitudes to lower areas.

The Indian Army, ITBP and NDRF have made temporary ropeways over the merging point of Songanga and Mandakini to rescue pedestrian pilgrims coming from Kedarnath.

Commandant of NDRF's eighth Battalion Manish Kumar who is supervising rescue operations, which started on Thursday in Sonprayag through temporary ropeways, said so far over 2500 pilgrims have been evacuated.

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Image: Buildings destroyed during floods are seen next to the Alaknanda river in Govindghat
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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680 dead, 40000 await help as rain threat looms

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He said the process is taking time because the ropes have to be changed after every couple of rounds due to presence of rough rocks in the area.

Sonprayag looks like a haunted town in the wake of the tragedy. Once the Mandakini river flew here 100 metres down but now it has turned into a heap of sand and boulders, a pilgrim said.

Dozens of hotels, lodges and shops located here have turned into tons of debris lying all over the place.

The trek for Kedarnath used to begin from Gaurikund which lies 5 km beyond Sonprayag, but now about 4 km long stretch between the two places has been badly damaged by the landslides triggered by the deluge.

60-year-old Gulabji Chaudhry and 45-year-old Bhanwar Singh from Ujjain (MP) were killed on Wednesday when they fell from the hills while trying to grab the food and relief material being airdropped at Mandakini-Songanga sangam in Sonprayag. 

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Image: Soldiers assist survivors to board a rescue helicopter next to the River Alaknanda
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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680 dead, 40000 await help as rain threat looms

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Recounting his nightmarish experience, a pilgrim from Orissa said he was in Junglechatti, only four km away from Gaurikund on the night of June 16 when the calamity struck, but what he saw in the course of his short journey from Junglechatti to Sonprayag is going to haunt him for a lifetime.

"Bodies were scattered all over and their relatives were too exhausted to even cry over them. I was myself helpless and would always regret not being able to help them when they needed it," he said.

Lack of coordination and basic understanding of the geography of the hilly terrain among government agencies engaged in the operations was visible everywhere between Guptkashi to Sonprayag, some of the locals said.

Rope bridges have been put up by the ITBP and NDRF in Sonprayag through which several hundreds of pilgrims have been evacuated so far.

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Image: Pilgrims are helped to climb over a hill by Army soldiers during a rescue operation at Govindghat
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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680 dead, 40000 await help as rain threat looms

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Principal Secretary of State Disaster Management Authority said a total 0f 73,000 pilgrims and tourists have been rescued till date. Apart from the 40 choppers in operation, the Rajasthan government has also given two choppers and 30 buses for evacuation of pilgrims.

The Gujarat government has also put into operation two chartered planes 747 Boeings (Jet Airways) with a capacity of 140 persons each to ferry pilgrims from the state stuck in high altitude areas to Ahmedabad.

Chopper operations were hampered on Saturday morning with overcast conditions delaying the programme of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was to undertake an aerial survey of the affected areas in Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.

A control room for pilgrims from Gujarat has been set up at Shantikunj Haridwar.

The Army has shifted some 18,000 people stranded at various places in the rain-ravaged

Uttarakhand to safer places braving adverse conditions, a senior officer said.

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Image: A boy carrying a bundle on his shoulder climbs over a hill during a rescue operation at Govindghat
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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"About 8,500 Army jawans are continuously working to locate the people still stranded in most difficult of places and shift them to safer areas and so far some 18,000 people from Gangotri, Joshimath, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Pindari glacier among other places have been evacuated," GOC-in-Chief of Central Command, Lt Gen Anil Chait told reporters.

As many as 19 medical centres and rest houses have been set up for providing medical aid and rest to the rescued people, Chait said, adding about 40,000 square km area in the hill state has been affected due to flood fury in the rivers caused by cloud burst and about 400 km road network in the Char Dham route has been affected.

He said that Army has all the required resources to extend help to the people there and they are being rescued by erecting smaller bridges and through other means in the most challenging of situations.

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Image: Survivors get out from an army helicopter during a rescue operation at Joshimath
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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680 dead, 40000 await help as rain threat looms

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In Gangotri region, some 500 people have been rescued, the Lt General said, adding that on Friday he had met the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna and discussed the ongoing works with him.

The Army officer said since Friday, the jawans have helped 728 stranded people talk to their family members and have extended help to about 1,000 people in Mangal Patti area from where the process to shift people to Gauri Kund has started.

Meanwhile, thousands of people have also been evacuated in helicopters to helipads between Sirsi to Nalachatty.  

Amid reports of deteriorating weather in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand, Army Chief General Bikram Singh said efforts have been stepped up to evacuate people stranded in the hilly terrain as "time is limited".

"...Time is limited. We have window till tomorrow because I have been told that weather might turn bad again but we are rushing our people there. Yesterday we landed our paratroopers... we are trying to reach even those areas where there is nobody at the moment just to ensure that in case if anybody is stuck over there, we will be able to get them out from there," Singh said. 

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Image: A woman carrying a baby on her back walks down a hill during a rescue operation at Govindghat
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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"It's a time consuming effort...because of rains, the roads are washed away. The accessibility is restricted but that not withstanding, we are doing our best because it is very important to save precious lives and important to ensure that we address aspirations of our countrymen who are there," he said.

When asked if the army was facing difficulties apart from the inclement weather, Singh said "...You must understand that increasing the footprint from 500 to 6,200 means you got to send the logistic cover not only for 6,200 personnel but you also have to take care of the people who need to be extricate from there".

He said that despite challenging circumstances, the army, along with other agencies was moving forward.

The MET department has predicted bad weather from June 24 in the Himalayan state, which is still coming to terms with the havoc wreaked by devastating mudslide and flash floods that swept away almost everything standing in its way.

"This is the weather forecast. We can hope for the best. If we have good weather things will be much easier...If aircraft, helicopters cannot fly you can not reach those areas and going by road or by cross country through such mountainous regions takes time," the army chief said.

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Image: A man walks across a field after alighting from an army helicopter
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
Tags: Singh , MET

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