Joshimath: The Indian Air Force (IAF) started de-induction of its aircraft from flood-hit Uttarakhand on Saturday as rescue operations reached their last leg across the state. However, the IAF will keep some of its choppers on standby at Dharasu and Gauchar for future requirements.
Weather conditions in Joshimath improved on Saturday morning, prompting chopper rescue operations to start and the government hopes to complete all evacuations by the end of the day. But the main challenge now is the evacuation of those 2000 people who are still stranded in the upper reaches of the state.
Many pilgrims in Badrinath are being rescued by a newly constructed foot track in Govindghat valley. "Only the Army has been helping. It has been such a difficult journey. Now with the new foot walk, finally it looks like there is hope," said one of the stranded people.
Officials said constructing roads will take some more time, primarily because of bad weather. "Jindal Group has sent three helicopters and we are rescuing people in Joshimath. The most difficult obstacle is the weather, when we have to wait for it to settle down before flying out. I have rescued more than a thousand people here," said SK Jana, a civil pilot.
The road from Joshimath to Govindghat has also been restored and pilgrims are being evacuated on foot. In Kedarnath, mass cremation of bodies is still continuing.
But food supplies are quickly running out in some villages that are completely cut off. After rescuing all stranded pilgrims and tourists, the challenge will be to rebuild many of the areas and the Rural Development Ministry has doubled the allocation of housing units in Uttarakhand Indira Awas Yojna by adding another 14,000 units.
While they rush to complete the rescue operations, authorities are also worried about the rising levels of the Bhagirathi river. Worried residents of Uttarkashi are being evacuated and many can often be seen standing on roof tops of their houses as they watch the fierce river gush into their properties. Local officials said they are keeping a close watch on the water level.
"We are calling workers to set up stones to control water inflow. It seems that the small temple on the way is reducing the pace of water. Nearby houses have been evacuated. We will see what else can be done to control these floods," said KK Singh, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Uttarkashi.
But with 2,000 people left to be evacuated from places including Badrinath and Harsil, the defence forces have deployed around 50 helicopters and over 8,000 troops in flood-hit Uttarakhand. The IAF has deployed 37 choppers along with 13 helicopters of the Army. Together, they have flown 84 sorties in the last 24 hours for evacuating the stranded pilgrims in the state, a Defence Ministry release said.
The armed forces have been successful in bringing out over 650 people from the pilgrimage town of Badrinath and Harsil in the last 24 hours, it said. In the operations which started on June 17, the two forces have deployed over 60 choppers which have flown 2,518 sorties and overall evacuated around 46,000 people from the higher reaches of the state.
Meanwhile, IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne received the bodies of the five IAF personnel who were killed in a helicopter crash on Tuesday. The Air Force also carried out a mission using its ALH Dhruv choppers in Gaurikund to bring the bodies from the crash site for postmortem and for DNA analysis at Dehradun.
Wing Commander Daryll Castellino, Flight Lieutenants Tapan Kapoor and K Praveen, Junior Warrant Officer AK Singh and Sergeant Sudhakar Yadav were among the 20 people who lost their lives in the chopper crash.
The mortal remains of Wing Commander Castelino arrived in Mumbai on Saturday. The Indian Air Force will also fly the remains of Flight Lieutenant Praveen, Junior Warrant Officer Singh and Sargent Yadav to Madurai, Fursatganj and Gorakhpur respectively.
(With Additional Inputs From PTI)
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