Hundreds of buildings lay in ruins

Hundreds of buildings lay in ruins

Toll 150; count may rise substantially as large areas still marooned

Hundreds of buildings lay in ruins

Nature’s fury continued unabated in Uttarakhand as the monsoon toll on Wednesday rose to 150 amid fears that the count may scale up substantially as large parts still remained under water. Hundreds of houses and buildings reportedly lay in ruins.

After an aerial survey of the affected areas, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs 1,000-crore aid to the state.

Skies cleared on Wednesday. Consequently, rescue and relief operations were stepped up but the efforts were hampered by the vast destruction of the roads caused by landslips and flash floods that damaged hundreds of houses, buildings, hotels and government guest houses.

Several thousand pilgrims from across the country are still stranded in the state.  
“Very heavy casualties are feared and I cannot give the exact number without a proper survey,” said Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna who described the flood ravage as “unprecedented and caused by a Himalayan tsunami.”

Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi conducted an aerial survey of the affected areas and described the situation as “most distressing.”

He announced Rs 1,000-crore aid for the state for relief operations, of which Rs 145 crore will be released immediately. “I have also directed all Central agencies to render all possible assistance in their domain to the state,” he told reporters on his return.

The Prime Minister said it is feared that the loss of lives could eventually be much higher. “So far, more than 10,000 people have been rescued and are being provided food, clothing and shelter. Many people still remain stranded. The maximum damage has been in Kedarnath and its vicinity,” he said.

Bahuguna, who described the scale of the devastation as unimaginable, said the priority was to rescue the stranded people, especially those on pilgrimage, distribution of medicines and rehabilitation and compensation for the affected, he said.

 Uttarakhand Principal Secretary (Home) Om Prakash said the toll in the state has gone up to 150. He was, however, 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. The state and Central governments have deployed all possible resources to deal with the tragedy.

About 5,500 jawans and officers of the Army, 3,000 men of the Border Roads Organisation and 600 ITBP personnel are engaged in relief and rescue efforts.
Thirteen teams of the National Disaster Response Force have also been pressed to work. The Air Force has deployed 18 helicopters and C130 aircraft. Private helicopters are also being engaged by the state government. Union Home Secretary R K Singh also toured the affected areas in the three districts and held a meeting with senior government officials at the Jollygrant airport to brief them about how to deal with the situation.

“Once the stranded people are evacuated to safety, the process of recovering bodies trapped in the debris of collapsed houses, mud and slush will begin,” the chief minister told reporters.

With scores of bodies trapped in debris at different places across the state beginning to decay, the threat of an epidemic also looms large on the hill state, officials said. However, there was no reason to panic as teams of doctors from the National Disaster Management Authority have already been sent to the affected areas, they said.

Rudraprayag SDM L N Mishra, who is overseeing the rescue operations at Agastya Muni, a place with a population of about 2 lakh, said there might be a food crisis if the stranded people are not evacuated in two days.

Forty hotels have been washed away in Rudraprayag district.