Dehradun: Undeterred by the chopper crash which took away 20 lives, the security forces continued their Herculean rescue operations in various parts of the flood-hit Uttarakhand on Wednesday. With the combined efforts of the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Army, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), thousands of more stranded people were rescued on Wednesday.
The IAF, which lost five of its personnel in the chopper crash, flew 64 sorties on Wednesday and airlifted 636 people from various parts of Uttarakhand. The Army also succeeded in evacuating 2000 people from Badrinath and 600 from Harsil. Bad weather hampered the rescue efforts through air but the Army continued the evacuation operation by roads. So far, the Army has rescued more than 33,000 people in Uttarakhand. While 25,000 have been evacuated by foot, 8000 have been moved by helicopter.
The ITBP also rescued 400 people on Wednesday. It has so far evacuated 30,816 pilgrims across the flood-ravaged state. But around 3500 people are still waiting to be rescued from Harsil and Badrinath areas, said an Army release on Wednesday.
With a threat of epidemic looming large, mass cremation of bodies of people killed in the rain fury began in Kedarnath on Wednesday.
Around one lakh stranded people have been rescued since the disaster struck the hill state on June 15. Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has assured that people stranded in Harsil and Badrinath areas would be rescued in the next two days. He also said that all steps were being taken to prevent epidemic outbreak in the flood-affected regions.
Mass cremation of bodies of people killed in the rain fury in Uttarakhand also finally began in Kedarnath on Wednesday. "The cremation of bodies in Kedarnath which was being put off again and again for the past two days due to bad weather was finally taken up this afternoon," IAS officer Ravinath Raman said. The temple town of Kedarnath was the epicentre of destruction. However, the number of bodies cremated was not immediately known.
Meanwhile, the NDMA said the bodies of all the 20 security personnel and crew onboard the crashed IAF rescue chopper have been recovered from the wreckage site. Twenty two paratroopers, including a lady medical officer, winched from Dhruv chopper and established a link up to the crash site on Wednesday.
IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said if the IAF got three to four days of good weather it will be able to complete its mission. "If the weather starts improving by Friday or so, then by Monday, Tuesday we should have all this (task) finished," he said. "We are over the hill", he told reporters in Gauchar, the forward base for the rescue choppers.
"...The operations are going to continue. In fact, most of the work has already been done. It is now a question of getting the people out from Badrinath and the Harsil sector," he said, adding, "Our rotors will not stop churning. That means, we will continue with the job till we get the people out."
The NDMA on Wednesday confirmed the death toll at 560 and said it was likely to rise as many are feared to be trapped inside the debris at Kedarnath. "There are 10 feet high debris in Kedarnath and we fear that several bodies are trapped," said NDMA Vice Chairman M Shashidhar Reddy. He also said that 344 people continue to remain untraceable, raising fears that all of them are dead.
DGP Satyavrat Bansal said disposal of all the bodies at Kedarnath was an onerous task with a large number of bodies lying underneath tonnes of debris and extricating them would not be easy as heavy equipment like JCBs will be need to be transported to the high altitude shrine for the purpose.
Uttarakhand minister Harak Singh Rawat also said clearing the shrine area of the debris and the bodies would not be easy. Till now, Matli, Bhatwari, Maneri have been fully evacuated. In Badrinath, one MI-17 and three Civil Helicopters are in operation for evacuations. More choppers are being kept on stand by but due to inclement weather conditions, rescue operations are being hampered.
(With additional information from PTI)