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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

June 21, 2013 12:36 IST

Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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A Correspondent

A Rediff.com correspondent spells out the trail of destruction in Uttarakhand as it tries to come to terms with the catastrophic monsoons.

The impact of the flash flood in Uttarakhand has been immense downstream as well. The toll and the number of still-stranded survivors is difficult to asses and authorities are also not making any guesses right now.

The bells in Haridwar were not chiming early on Thursday morning and the Nataraj taxi stand was virtually empty in Rishikesh. There were hardly any takers to go up the hill that is usually bustling with activity at all times in day and night at this time of the year.

Most of that traffic is usually directed towards Kedarnath and Badrinath -- the two popular places of Hindu pilgrimage in this Himalayan state.

Ahead of Rishikesh, Shivpuri is devoid of any activity and the tea stall owners in Byasi sit glum-faced with no hope of the Kedar-Badri business this season or for a while. The Kedar-Badri route generates the highest revenue in this area.

The government has said it'll begin work on the roads this year but it is impossible to clear the malba and silt left by the flash flood all over the roads.

Near Devprayag, the final confluence of transcendental rivers that culminates into the holy Ganga, the river has expanded and eaten into the roads.

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Image: Road torn up by river during Ganga Fury exactly above the final confluence of the Ganga at Devprayag
Photographs: Himanshu_Nautiyal/Twitter

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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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The traffic passed, thanks to the efforts of the Border Roads Organisation which has made passable stretches alongside these torn-away sections of the road. Some 3,000 BRO personnel have been mobilised to participate in the major rescue and relief operations.

In Devprayag, also a major pilgrimage destination, the river swelled up and went over the concrete bridge built downstream across it. The river has left uprooted trees, sand and boulders along the banks here, and in Shivpuri, which it carried down from the mountains. 

In Kirtinagar, the bridge to Srinagar has been washed over and the administration has diverted traffic through a single-lane road. This allows only for a few cars from each side to pass at a time.

On Thursday, the sand was still around on this road -- at least 40 feet above the surface from where the river normally flows -- showing how high the river had reached.

The downhill traffic also comprised cars headed for Rudraprayag, from where the roads had finally been opened after a five-day hiatus. 

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Photographs: Ankyy/Twitter

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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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Srinagar has been severely affected by the flash flood.  On Thursday evening, after a gap of five days, water supply was restored in parts of the hill town. 

Sections of the town, which are on the banks of the Alaknanda-Mandakini rivers, have been submerged.

This includes Shastri Vihar, where nearly a hundred households had been displaced due to the flood. 

From the version of several residents of Shastri Vihar, including Md Shajid and Munna Rawat, the water rose late on Monday night. According to these residents, following incessant rains, the water rose above the perimeter of the ShashastraSeemaBalAcademy's wall, crossing around 300 metres, rising above 12 feet. 

"We were lying awake and the children had gone to sleep as it was 1 am. Around 1:30 am, on the night between Sunday and Monday, I saw the water had crossed the SSB academy campus and was at its boundary wall. I started warning others and went home to pack a few things. At around 2:30 am, the wall cracked and we made a run for it. The water was already at our feet by then," said Manoj Kotiana, a resident of Shastri Vihar.

What followed has not been seen in more than a century in Srinagar -- the water rose and submerged the houses, vehicles and livestock there. 

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Photographs: Ankyy/Twitter

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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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When the water receded the next day, there was a 9-10 feet high deposit of sand and debris and logs of uprooted trees. The sand was a feet or two below ceiling fans inside the houses.

The district administration has provided cheques of Rs 2,700 for residents to have the sand cleared so they can start recovering their possessions.

The residents are worried about important documents, gold ornaments and other valuables lying inside the houses. Personal possessions are destroyed.

Most of the residents are staying with friends and relatives, while there are several residing inside the electronic block of the nearby National Institute of Technology campus.

The local community has come forward with mattresses, blankets and personal care items such as toothbrushes, soap and shampoo to help the displaced people.

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Photographs: Timash-82/Twitter

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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said in Srinagar on Thursday that he would consider deeming these people displaced in order to grant them special rehabilitation and resettlement packages. 

The locals complained that the flood was bad but the nearby hydel project dam had also opened its gates on Monday evening leading to another flooding which had made the situation worse.

Earth moving machines had started work on clearing the roads but seemed helpless as they could only dig up sand from what was an alley here and hike it up on more sand along the road. The amount of sand and other deposits would take weeks, if not months, to clear.

The residents have lost all or most of their personal belongings.

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Photographs: Indian1947/Twitter

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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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The news from the mountains is that a high number of survivors remain stranded while relief and rescue operations continue. 

More choppers, including those requisitioned from private owners, have been deployed to aid in rescue, and the drone of these helicopters could be heard intermittently as they airlifted survivors in to Srinagar or further ahead to as far as Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun.

An estimated 30,000 pilgrims were in the Kedarnath-Gaurikund while another 15,000 were in the Badrinath area.

The number of dead, according to estimates of local media persons, is anything between 5,000-10,000, while bodies of scores of victims lie undiscovered. 

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Image: A car stuck in the sand while a JCB machine tries to clear road
Photographs: ConfUshinor/Twitter

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Uttarakhand: 'Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes'

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Several pilgrims and other survivors, who were in Rudraprayag (30 km north east of Srinagar) on their way back or going towards Kedarnath, have started coming downhill as the road was opened on Thursday.

Many said that the prices of commodities had increased drastically. A survivor said that a packet of biscuit was being sold at Rs 100 while water bottles were priced as high as Rs 150.

Lodges had quadrupled their charges and food was more expensive if available.

Around 20 km of highways in Uttarakhand has been washed away by the river to which the mountains have responded with rockfalls and landslides.

There is extensive visible damage to infrastructure projects and communication is still down on major towns on the Kedarnath route such as Sonprayag, Guptkashi, Rambara and Gaurikund.

It is expected that more roads will open from Friday to facilitate evacuation of stranded people from the area.

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Image: Buses to rishikesh and haridwar go empty after at a rest stop near Meerut
Photographs: ConfUshinor/Twitter

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