Centre claims 12,000 people rescued; 10,000 still stranded

The Centre claimed rescue operations in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand gained momentum on Sunday with the successful evacuation of 12,000 of the 22,000 people still stuck in various places. But reports said 19,000 people still awaited their turn to be moved to safer areas.

The state government also said that at least 5,000 people must have perished in the worst ever tragedy that struck the hill state. With the passage of time, identification of bodies, too, is becoming a problem.

While speaking to the media here, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) official Deepak Kumar Pandey said most of the bodies were found in hills and jungles around 10 km away from the Kedarnath shrine. “As the floods came, several people ran towards the hills but must have got lost in the woods with no sense of direction, and with no food and water, they died,” he said, adding that the toll must been in hundreds if not thousands. However, the Centre put the death toll at 560.

“Around 12,000 people were rescued on Sunday out of the 22,000 stranded in various areas of Uttarakhand,”  D-G Press Information Bureau Neelam Kapur said. According to the Centre only 10,000 remained stranded in Uttarakhand while the state figures said 19,000 were yet to be evacuated.

The Kedarnath Valley, the temple town which was the epicentre of the rain fury, was cleared of all stranded pilgrims and the focus has shifted to Harsil, a village en route to Gangotri where 2,000 people were still stuck. Air operations were enhanced in the area along with Gaurikund as roads were badly damaged. Also, 5,000 people who were stuck in Badrinath were moved to hotels where they have access to food and other civic amenities.

Rescue operations by the ITBP, Air force and the Army were stepped up but the Met department warned of rains in the region from Monday and that might hinder the operations once again.

The Centre said efforts were on to airlift the elderly and the sick, while the rest were being encouraged to use surface transport. 

To speed up the operations, the NDRF on Sunday deployed UAV’s to trace survivors in various areas. NDRF DIG S S Guleria said the UAV will operate on Monday as well to ensure all are evacuated. The BSNL has operationalised toll-free helpline numbers, 1503 and 09412024365, to avail information on the last active location of the BSNL mobile phones of the missing persons, Kapur said. Railways, too, allowed free travel to passengers by the special trains from Haridwar and Dehradun. The Railways have arranged for revalidation of tickets of stranded passengers even after expiry of the validity, relaxing refund rules.

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