Dehradun: Rescue operations intensified in Uttarakhand on Thursday as multiple agencies fanned out to some of the worst-hit regions to help stranded people move out of the flood-affected areas in the state. People were airlifted and food was supplied at various places but still a lot remains to be done as many roads, houses and buildings have been washed away in the floods.
The death toll in Uttarakhand flood disaster has reached 150 and Indo-Tibetan Border Police DG Ajay Chadha has said it could rise as many people could have been washed away. Even as more than 33,000 people have been rescued, reports are that over 50,000 are still stranded across the state and thousands are still missing.
While the critical stretch has been between Kedarnath and Guptakashi, the big challenge remains Rambara and Gaurikund. Evacuations are expected to continue for another week, while air operations will go on for three more days. The Sonprayag-Rudraprayag and the Uttarkashi-Rishikesh roads have now opened.
Kedarnath evacuated; rescue operations to continue
ITBP chief Ajay Chadha, whose 1,000 men are involved in relief work in Uttarakhand, said the worst-affected Kedarnath temple area has been completely evacuated but there could still be about 400-500 people in the upper reaches. The Army will launch operations on Friday to bring these people down, Chadha added. The Rambada area around the temple was still in slush and debris and there could bodies submerged in it, he said.
Chadha, however, said he was not in a position to give the exact death toll. There could be a lot of people who could have been washed away but in such situations eyewitness accounts could sometimes be exaggerated, he said.
The ITBP DG, who is also in-charge of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said 17 bodies were recovered by the troops of the specialised force from the Kedarnath area. The state government has been informed.
He said efforts were on to build temporary bridges and roads so that people can be brought down and flown in small helicopters which are landing at all the major places struck by rains and floods.
"A total of 3,750 victims, 1,000 pilgrims from Govindghat-Ghangharia area and 1,500 victims from Lambagad area have been evacuated to Joshimath by our rescue teams," the ITBP said in a statement.
Gaurikund, the base camp for those going to Kedarnath temple, also witnessed rescue of 250 people on Thursday by small helicopters.
The Home Ministry in a late evening statement also confirmed that more than 33,000 people have been rescued in Uttarakhand. "As of today, 33,192 pilgrims have been rescued to safer places. NDRF and ITBP have rescued 654 and 1,800 persons respectively as on Thursday. Ninety sorties were conducted using 17 IAF/Army helicopters and eleven private helicopters.
"NDRF has recovered 17 dead bodies. Government of Uttarkahand has reported that 72 people have lost their lives so far. 50,422 pilgrims are still stranded at various places," the statement said.
45 Army, IAF choppers; 10,000 troops deployed in Uttarakhand
Stepping up relief and rescue operations in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry has deployed more than 45 choppers belonging to the Army and the IAF in the state along with more than 10,000 troops in the rain-ravaged parts of the hill state.
IAF has deployed 20 Mi-17s and 16 Advanced Light Helicopters in the state where they have evacuated over 1,500 people. Army has also deployed over 8,000 of its troops there along with over 3,000 personnel of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Defence Ministry officials said on Thursday.
Defence Minister AK Antony is monitoring the situation and has directed the armed forces to extend maximum possible support in the operations, they said.
Army has also deployed over 100 Special Forces troops in Kedarnath and Sonprayag area, which is cut-off till now, to link up with people who have been stranded there for last four to five days, they said. "The Army has so far rescued more than 11,000 people, mainly from Govindghat and Harsil. About 10,000 people are also being provided food and medical assistance," an Army release said.
Army has also launched a column of its units in Kumaon region where more than 50-60 people have been stranded on Pindari Glacier and Sunder Dunga Glacier.
Both the Army and the IAF are also trying to establish landing grounds for their aircraft in forward regions for evacuating larger number of people.
PM appeals to public for donations
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday issued an appeal to the public for generous donations to support the victims who have suffered "extensive devastation". In his appeal, Singh said the central government is extending all cooperation and assistance to the state government in rescue and relief operations. He said "extensive devastation" has been caused due to cloudbursts and floods in the state and a large number of people have died and property worth crores of rupees has been damaged.
"At this moment, affected people need our help to tide over the calamity that has fallen upon them, to survive and to rebuild their lives. I request all citizens of India to stand with our distressed fellow countrymen, and actively participate in the national effort to support them at this difficult time," the Prime Minister said.
"I appeal to all citizens to donate generously to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund," he said. The appeal comes against the backdrop of the Prime Minister's announcement of Rs 1000 for rescue and relief operations in the state.
Uttarkashi: 01374-226126, 226161
The ITBP helpline and control room numbers: 011-24362892, 9968383478
Army medical emergency helpline numbers: 18001805558, 18004190282, 8009833388
Uttarakhand Helpline numbers: 0135-2710334, 2710335, 2710233
(With additional information from PTI)