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Rescue efforts gather steam in U'khand, 40 choppers deployed

Dehradun, Jun 21, 2013 (PTI) 13:01 IST
Soldiers rescue stranded people after heavy rains in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand June 18, 2013. India's monsoon rains could ease soon after hitting 89 percent over averages in the week to June 19, according to weather office sources, in a third straight week of downpours that have caused major flooding in north India. Picture taken June 18, 2013. REUTERS
Massive rescue operations were today launched in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand with 40 helicopters pressed into service to evacuate over 9000 people from Kedarnath and Badrinath areas as the state government said the toll in the rain fury could be "shockingly high".

The focus of the rescue operation today would be the worst-hit Kedarnath area where 250 people are stranded, officials said.

The operation would then shift to Badrinath where 9000 people are stuck, they said.As the rescue efforts picked up steam, Uttarkahnad Principal Secretary Rakesh Sharma said causalty figures can be "shockingly high".

Terming it as the "worst tragedy of the millennium", Agriculture Minister Harak Singh Rawat said, "It will take us at least five years to recover from the extensive damages caused to the entire infrastructure network in the Kedarnath area which is the worst affected".

Rawat, who had visited the Kedarnath area, said that he spent five hours there and was shocked to see the extent of the damage caused to the buildings and area adjoining the shrine.

"The centre of faith has turned into a burial ground. Bodies are scattered in the area. Only the sanctum sanctorum is intact," he said.

Thousands of people were still said to be stranded in various parts of the state that was hit by cloudburst and floods in the upper reaches that left several hundreds of homes, rest houses and buildings in ruins and thousands of people missing.

The official death toll still stood at 150 but Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the casualties could run into several hundreds which will be known only when areas become accessible and water recedes.

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 along with over 3,000 personnel of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

The upper reaches of the state lay mute witness to the death and devastation caused by nature's fury due to Saturday's cloudburst and landslides and a complete estimate of which was still not available.

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