Uttarakhand: Bad weather hampers chopper operations at some places. Security forces,volunteers race against time with bad weather being forecast in the flood-affected region from Sunday night.
In a significant breakthrough for rescue efforts in flood-hit Uttarakhand,Army troops have started evacuating pilgrims in batches from around 1,000 people who were stranded in Jungle Chatti,in mountains between Gaurikund and Rambara in Kedarnath. These people had taken refuge in the gorges and ravines when the massive deluge occurred nearly a week ago. In pics: Uttarakhand rescue operations
Medical and food supplies are being flown in to the stranded people but the rescue operations are risky because of difficult terrain.
Hungry for days,many of those sighted are ill and and in need of immediate medical care,official sources said,adding the sick and ailing among them are being evacuated on a priority basis.
Evacuation of stranded people from flood-hit areas of Uttarakhand picked up pace with security forces rescuing 17 foreign tourists from Dharasu even as bad weather hampered chopper operations at some places.
Officials said most areas that rescuers were able access the inaccessible areas now. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) said most evacuations should be completed by Sunday,which is good news with bad weather being forecast in the flood-affected region from Sunday night. Related: Long march for survival
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde,who arrived in the Uttarakhand capital to review rescue efforts with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna,said operations are underway on a war footing to evacuate about 40,000 pilgrims stranded in various places and set a three-day deadline to the agencies involved to complete the evacuation process.
The death toll in flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand crossed 550 on Friday and was expected to rise as an eight-member team of experts is being sent to Kedarnath shrine to take a count of bodies lying in the temple area.
Disaster Management authorities here said that photos of the bodies strewn all over the area will be taken and put on the state government’s official website.
Principal Secretary of State Disaster Management Authority said a total 0f 73,000 pilgrims and tourists have been rescued till date.
On Friday,an alternative road link to the Kedarnath shrines base camp was opened by the Army,enabling the evacuation of thousands of pilgrims stranded in the worst-affected area for days without enough food and water.
Bad weather forecast in Uttarakhand has caused the government to ask rescue teams to go full-throttle with their efforts in the 48 hours before that.
A high-level meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary in Delhi on Friday evening asked all agencies involved to pull out all stops and undertake massive rescue operations in the next two days due to the narrow window of 48 hours,sources said. Related: ITBP men pulled from border for rescue
They also said that the evacuation process was almost over in the other badly-affected places such as Gangotri,Govindghat,Ghagharia,Gaurikund-Karnprayag and Joshimath.
The meteorological department has predicted bad weather from Sunday night. We will have to complete the rescue process in the 48 hours available with us. As many as 54 choppers will begin sorties from Saturday morning and try to complete the rescue process. We will have to overcome all issues, one source said.
The Kedarnath-Gaurikund axis still needed the most attention,the source said. We have been able to airlift 75-80 per cent people who were stranded with no access to food or water. There are others who have been kept in camps with all provisions, the source said.
To expedite rescue operations hampered by communication problems,the state government has been provided 10 satellite phones from the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Earlier on Friday,an alternate route to the Kedar valley – where an estimated 5,000 people are stranded – was established through Tehri,easing the pressure on airlift operations that were the only means to evacuate pilgrims.
Officials said pilgrims stranded in the Kedar valley have started reaching Rishikesh through this route.
Air operations to ferry people stuck in isolated pockets are also being moved from the Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun to an air field in Gauchar in Chamoli district that is closer to the area.
Although military helicopters now take about 25 minutes to reach Gaurikund from Gauchar,only 37 persons could be airlifted in operations in the first half of Friday. It used to take more than one hour for a helicopter to reach Gaurikund via Rudraprayag. Now it is a short trip for helicopters from Gauchar, one Army personnel at Gauchar airport said.
The Army faces problems in airlifting pilgrims from areas located between two mountains. It has now started dropping its men at different points to make new helipads.
People are stranded on roads in the hills. This is difficult terrain near Gaurikund. Roads are narrow with the hill above and the river below. It is not an easy task for rescuers to airlift such people, one officer involved in the rescue operation said.
Big helicopters,he added,were not suitable for such operations. The good news is that the Army has already restored road communication on the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway which had been hit by massive landslides. Several vehicles could be seen on this route carrying pilgrims who were rescued from Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib to Rishikesh.
While resumption of traffic on the Rishikesh-Badrinath route has helped evacuation of pilgrims from the Alaknanda valley,the alternate route between Guptkashi and Rishikesh is a big relief for those who were in the Mandakini valley where the Kedarnath shrine is located.
At Gauchar airport,which is situated about 160 km from Dehradun on the Rishikesh-Badrinath route,the Army has made arrangements for several fuel tankers. This is like a mobile pump for fuel. The helicopters which are in service get fuel at Gauchar itself, a police officer said.
At present,17 helicopters are operating from Gauchar and teams of doctors have been airlifted from Gaurikund to examine survivors.
Witnesses said there are several spots on the Rishikesh-Badrinath route that have been destroyed by the rains and floods,reminding the rescued pilgrims of the magnitude of the disaster. While several shops and buildings located on the bank of Pindar river have collapsed in Karnprayag,the Alaknanda has engulfed the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigams hotel in Birahi near Chamoli.
With the administration still fully focused on rescue operations,locals have begun to protest at several places against what they say is the negligence of the government towards their suffering.
Uttarakhand rescue operation
Apart from the 40 choppers in operation across the flood-hit parts of Uttarakhand,the Rajasthan government has also given two choppers and 30 buses for evacuation of pilgrims.
The Gujarat government has also put into operation two chartered planes 747 Boeings (Jet Airways) with a capacity of 140 persons each to ferry pilgrims from the state stuck in high altitude areas to Ahmedabad.
Chopper operations were hampered here early this morning with overcast conditions delaying the programme of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi,who was to undertake an aerial survey of the affected areas in Rudraprayag,Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.
A control room for pilgrims from Gujarat has been set up at Shantikunj Haridwar.
In Himachal Pradesh,seven foreigners were today evacuated from tribal Lahaul and Spiti district even as the state chopper made sorties to high altitude areas in Pooh,
Tabo and Nako to airlift people stranded in rain-ravaged
Kinnaur district for the past eight days.
The sorties would continue till the evening to evacuate maximum number of stranded people,state officials said.
The exact number of people stuck up in these areas is yet to be ascertained as reports of more people stranded in remote areas are still pouring in.
Most of the link roads and Hindustan-Tibet National Highway was blocked at numerous places due to landslides and breaches and a large number of vehicles are stranded in the district.
The situation was improving in Uttar Pradesh as there was no fresh rainfall. While Sharda and Ghaghra have registered a downward trend,the River Ganga was rising all along its route from Fatehgarh to Ballia.
River Ghaghra,which was still flowing above the danger mark at Elgin Bridge (Barabanki),was receding and at Ayodhya and Turtipar,where it has crossed the red mark,it was static.
The Uttar Pradesh Roadways Corporation has started 300 special buses from Haridwar for the benefit of flood affected people. (With PTI inputs)