Dehradun: The tragedy in Uttarakhand is unfolding as the death toll in the flash floods and landslides continues. Over 550 people have been killed and thousands still remain stranded in different parts of the state.
However, authorities are also saying that it is still difficult to put a number to those dead or those who may have been stranded. The government has already warned that the body count could rise dramatically as flood waters recede and rescue workers reach isolated areas.
The Army has confirmed that although 18,000 people were rescued by road and almost 1,300 by Army and private helicopters from various areas around Uttarkashi, thousands still remain trapped. A helipad has been constructed near the Kedarnath temple and rescue operations will continue on Saturday while Navy divers have been deployed as well.
Meanwhile, those rescued are being sent back home on special trains from Dehradun and Haridwar free of cost. Communications are also partially back online, with centres being operated from Gaurikund, Gauchar and Phata.
Meanwhile, thousands of pilgrims still stranded at Badrinath are crying out for help as children and the elderly battle extreme conditions. Rescue teams may only have a brief window to conclude operations as the Met department forecasts heavy showers again on Monday.
Army sources say they are prioritising the rescue of women and children. But with around 4,000 still trapped at Badrinath, time may run out, as the Army say the whole operation will likely take five to six days to finish.
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," Bahuguna 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.
The search for those missing continues
While rescue teams search for people in different parts of Uttarakhand, many people are also using social media to get information about their loved ones. A lot of photographs and helpline numbers have been uploaded on websites like Google and Facebook.
Social media has brought people together in this hour of tragedy - to help them locate missing family members. The clamour for help has now spread to Google spreadsheets. Hundreds of people have begun updating the spreadsheet with information about their loved ones hoping to get leads. Others have added helpline numbers and links to Government websites.
Not just that search engine, Google has also made finding your loved ones much easier - you can just go on the personalised people finder and type the name of the missing person - it has already help locate 150 people
A Facebook page called 'Help Uttrakhand - 2013 floods' was started by a group of friends after their parents went missing. It includes scanned lists of those found and photos of those still missing. Even Twitter is filled with information & leads. Esha Maheswari, whose parents are missing in Uttrakashi, says this has given her hope.
You can also send us pictures and names of your loved ones who are missing. Just go to www.ibnlive.com/uttarakhandmissing or ibncj.com.
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
Railway helpline numbers at Haridwar: 09760534054/09760534055;