Race against time as 22k still stranded

Race against time as 22k still stranded

Rescue work stepped up as more rain predicted

Race against time as 22k still stranded

With forecast for more rain in the next two days in flood-hit Uttarakhand, different agencies are racing against time to rescue 22,000 people still stranded in treacherous locations in the hilly state.

The Kedarnath hill shrine, normally teeming with pilgrims, on Saturday wore the look of a haunted place, with 123 bodies being recovered from the area, taking the toll to 680.
To expedite rescue work, different agencies of the government have decided to intensify their operations over the next two days, before the predicted rains lash the mountains on Monday.
The causality figures will easily touch the 1,000-mark, fears Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna.

Around 22,000 people are thought to be still stranded in different places.

If the weather remains normal, all stranded people from both Kedaranath and Badrinath could be evacuated in one or two days.

However, evacuation from other places would take a couple of days more, as different agencies are making further inroads, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters here.

In Dehradun, Bahuguna told a press conference, “Kedarnath has been totally evacuated of pilgrims now, and the next step would be to evacuate pilgrims from Badrinath, where nearly 8,000 are still stranded.

“Out of the 1,000 pilgrims sighted in the Junglechatti area near Gauri Kund on Saturday, 400 have been evacuated. The 600 still stranded in the area have been provided with ample food and medicines. Now our focus is on Badrinath, from where 500 people were evacuated today (on Saturday). The number of people stranded there is 7,000-8,000.”

Army hailed

The armed forces were in for special praise for their daring operations, which gave victims virtually a second life.

Ludhiana-resident Sukhvinder Singh, who was stuck for eight days on the way to Hemkund Sahib, recounted, “I was en route to Hemkund Sahib when the disaster struck. The situation was deteriorating with the passage of time. We were somewhat relieved when the Army stepped in. They gave us food and water and helped us in every possible way. Had they not been here, we wouldn't have survived.”

Recalling his horrific experience over the past few days, Aman Bisht, who arranges treks to Hemkund Sahib every year, said “The road links were shattered and we had no bridges left there. And even if there was a road somewhere, it was broken. The Army has been very supportive.”

Mounting the biggest-ever operation to evacuate people from a disaster zone in times of peace, 61 helicopters, including 43 of the IAF and 11 of the Army, were deployed. World's biggest helicopters, the Russian-made MI-26 that can carry about 150 passengers, were pressed into service on Saturday.

Full coordination

Manish Tewari also said that all Central and state government agencies were working in full coordination, a point he made hours after Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that there seemed to have been some lack of coordination.

Tewari said that on Saturday about 10,000 people were evacuated, of which the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Army evacuated 4,000 people each.

Of those rescued by the Army, 2,000 were from critical areas. The minister said food packets have been distributed in Junglechatti and Gauchar, where two helicopters would make sorties on Sunday.

The National Disaster Relief Force rescued 143 people from Gauri Kund, one of the higher reaches on way to Kedarnath.

Refuse to move-out

There are 189 sadhus in Gauri Kund who have refused to move out.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by former Uttarakhand chief minister Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri, undertook an aerial survey of the affected areas in Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts, after he was reportedly denied visit to affected regions.

On their return to Shantikunj in Haridwar, Modi told reporters he saw thousands of people stranded at places.