Kedarnath/Dehradun: It's been almost a week since flash floods hit Uttarakhand but the real scale of the disaster is still unfolding. Though the Army, the ITBP and other disaster management teams have succeeded in rescuing thousands, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said on Friday he feared that death toll could run into hundreds.
"Over 556 bodies have been recovered in the state so far but there are reports that more could be buried under the debris," he said while speaking to CNN-IBN's Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate.
The Chief Minister also admitted to the lapses in the government's preparedness for the calamity. He said it was most likely that the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Board never met since its constitution. He also conceded that the state did not meet the norms laid by the National Disaster Management.
Bahuguna, however, refuted reports that his government had prior warnings about the cloud burst and said "the magnitude of the calamity is so huge that no authority or body could have handled it". "Even the Government of India doesn't have a force which can handle such a situation," he added.
He said the damage caused to the hill state by the floods and landslides was massive and it would take a long time to "rebuild Uttarakhand". He added that Kedarnath has suffered the worst and therefore no yatra would be organised for at least next two years.
Bahuguna said rescue operations were on and it would take another 15 days to complete evacuation in the state. "Over 30,000 have been evacuated and those who are stuck in certain areas in Uttarakhand, there is no threat to their lives," he added. The Chief Minister said the stranded people were being brough to Army relief camps, which have been established in Harsil, Joshimath, Rudraprayag and Gaucher,"
The Indo-Tibet Border Police has also refused to confirm the death toll. It said roads and bridges were being constructed to connect areas which were cut off by the floods. It, however, assured that by Saturday pilgrims from Pandukeshwar will also be evacuated. "There is perfect coordination on the ground and we are passing all the information to the Uttarakhand government," ITBP DG Ajay Chadha said.
Meanwhile, the government released an amount of Rs 145 crore from the State Disaster Response Fund. Briefing the media on the relief operations, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said, "The IAF has committed 13 more aircraft. The total number of aircraft pressed into service now is 43. The is IAF also activating landing grounds at two more places."
He also said the Railways have started running special trains from Haridwar to carry stranded passengers free of cost. "33,192 pilgrims are rescued and moved to a safer place. Search, rescue and relief operations are being carried out by Army, IAF, Private helicopters, SSB, Indo-Tibetan border Police," Tewari said.
While many state governments announced compensations for the Uttarakhand flood victims on Friday, both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party presidents asked its party leaders to contribute to the relief fund.
The devastation caused by the floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh is likely to declared a national calamity. In a meeting held on Friday, the Standing Committee on Home Ministry agreed unanimously that the unprecedented nature's fury in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh be declared a "national calamity" and urged the Centre to extend all support to the two states in relief and rehabilitation operations.