Slow pace of air-evacuation and prolonged delay in relief operations has caused fresh panic among stranded tourists and locals in the tragedy-hit Kinnuar district of Himachal Pradesh. The situation aggravated further with two of the three IAF rescue helicopters remaining grounded at Shimla on Saturday .
Meanwhile officials put the total death toll in Kinnaur at 20 with the recovery of four bodies,believed to be members of one family,from a house which had collapsed .
There are reports of nearly a thousand tourists and large number of locals still stranded at places other than Reckong Peo,Kalpa,Sangla and Pooh as many stranded persons have not been able to reach up to the helipads. The road communication in entire district snapped on June 16 with electricity,water supply and communication network also having collapsed.
Of three IAF helicopters ,which the state government had requisitioned for stepping-up its relief and rescue operations,two remained grounded at Annandale army ground. Only a few stranded tourists,seven from Nako,were evacuated today.
One helicopter developed a snag and the second was due for its maintenance service. One replacement,which we were assured of,could not reach Shimla leaving us with just one IAF helicopter and our own Pawan Hans helicopter is also being used to drop election material for the Mandi bypoll, the state chief secretary Sudripta Roy told The Sunday Express.
Till now,the government claims to have evacuated 1200 persons,who include tourists – few of them sick and aged beside locals stranded at different locations.
After a two day recce operation,army helicopters have traced 24 missing shepherds who had gone to higher mountains with their flock but never returned. Seventeen of them have returned home safe, said principal secretary to the prime minister V C Pharka.
A Sangla hotelier,Samaul Banerjee,said,A large number of tourists are still stranded in the valley. At my hotel too 30 people,including women and children,are awaiting evacuation. How long can I provide free lodging and food? The administration has not responded to my requests to airlift these Bengali tourists.
Some of the tourists,who were evacuated from Sangla where they were lodged at an adventure camp,have complained of being overcharged for their stay.
Officials admit that the rescue operation has taken a beating because of confusion and lack of coordination. Things are not working fine. People still waiting to be airlifted from some of the interior areas as evacuation was being done only from Sangla,Reckong Peo and Pooh, said Pankaj Dogra (not his real name),a computer engineer from Jammu ,who travelled 15 to 18 km to reach a helipad along with two other friends three days after the tragedy.