Uttarakhand toll up to 150, rescue operations on

Uttarakhand toll up to 150, rescue operations on

With skies clearing, rescue of stranded people and relief operations intensified today in Uttarakhand where the death toll in the rain and floods shot up to 150 as thousands of pilgrims still remained stranded.

Reports today suggested that the famous Kedarnath shrine, where 50 people died in the landslide that accompanied torrential rain and flash floods, is intact notwithstanding the heavy damage all around.

With rains ceasing in the last two days, there were no fresh incidents of landslides and flooding.

Accompanied by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an aerial survey of the worst-hit areas while Union Home Secretary RK Singh also undertook a similar mission separately.

Uttarakhand Principal Secretary Om Prakash said the death toll in the state has gone up to 150 but was not in a position to give the exact estimate since several villages in Chamoli and Rudraprayag districts in the upper reaches were still under water.

Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters that he was also not in a position to give the exact estimate of death and destruction which he said was unprecedented in the state.

It would take one year to restore normalcy on the road to Kedarnath from the after effects of the cloud burst which he described as a "Himalayan tsunami".

The first priority is to rescue the stranded people especially those on pilgrimage from various parts of the country, distribution of medicines and rehabilitation and compensation for the affected, he said.

The Chief Minister said very heavy casualties are feared, electric poles have been uprooted and several roads have been damaged in the calamity, the scale of which was not imagined. 5,000 people are in Gauri Kund.

With the weather clearing in most places, operations commenced in full swing to rescue the stranded, especially in Badrinath shrine where 12,000 pilgrims are still stuck.

While 1,500 pilgrims and locals were rescued from in Chamoli district, 1,200 stranded tourists were evacuated in Rudraprayag.

Officials said that evacuating people to safer places was their priority as recovery of bodies can be taken up later.

On the steps being initiated by the government to provide succour to the victims, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said in New Delhi that IAF helicopters have been deployed to evacuate stranded people from Gaurikund while a control centre has been established in Badrinath.

"Fourteen teams comprising 540 persons of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed in Uttarakhand. 62,790 people are stranded in Uttarakhand. 5,000 people have been rescued by the Army," Shinde said.

Rescue operations were also on in rain-ravaged tribal Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh for the second day today and one state and two IAF choppers were evacuating stranded people at various points in Kinnaur district and adjoining Kaza area of Spiti.

"The exact number of people stranded at various places is not known, but the priority is to evacuate tourists and the aged and ailing persons first," HP Principal Secretary (Home), Tarun Sridhar said.

ITBP DG Ajay Chadha said that it was difficult to give exact figures of those rescued as a number of agencies were involved in the relief efforts.

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