Death toll across north India reaches 131, worse feared
The death toll from the incessant rain, cloudbursts and landslides across Uttarakhand had reached 52 on Tuesday, officials said.
Fifty police personnel posted near Kedarnath were feared missing, authorities said, as they struggled to get a clear picture of the devastation in the remote mountainous regions.
The final toll could be in the hundreds, officials said. They said 27,000 pilgrims were stranded, and 11 choppers were called in to rescue them.
The total number of deaths across north India had reached 131 by Tuesday, PTI reported. Thousands have been displaced in Uttar Pradesh, where several rivers were in spate.
In Himachal Pradesh, 11 people were killed in floods and landslides, 10 of them in Kinnaur alone. About 1,700 people remained stranded across the hill state. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who was stranded in Kinnaur district for nearly 60 hours, was evacuated Tuesday morning by a private helicopter the Congress party had hired to campaign in the Mandi bypoll.
The Union home ministry said in Delhi that the Centre has pressed over a dozen helicopters to evacuate people in the two states but they could be used only Tuesday morning when the weather cleared.
It also said 12 additional teams of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) had been despatched to Uttarakhand to join the Army, ITBP and BSF personnel in rescue operations launched on Tuesday after it rained for 72 hours.
Reports reaching the state headquarters said personnel at the police camp near Kedarnath could not be reached. “There is no communication with about 50 police personnel posted at Kedarnath police camp until this evening. However, about 60 jawans posted at Gaurikund police camp are safe. They had moved to a higher place,” said a police source.
Officials said the Kedarnath temple area faced the fury of the downpour around 7 pm on Sunday. The floodwater came with large rocks that hit the back wall of the temple. “Those who were inside the temple probably survived but those who were outside at different spots cannot be traced,” said the officer who was a part of the rescue team and spoke to survivors.
“The idol of Nandi could not be seen during the aerial survey,” he said, referring to the temple site. The railing around the temple and stairs at the entrance were also damaged. About 4,500 mules that ferried pilgrims from Gaurikund to the temple were also missing.
Rambada, the base camp for pilgrims en route to Kedarnath, had been washed away. The MI-17 helicopter sent to assess the situation in Rambada Tuesday morning could not find a site to land. Officers on the chopper were said to be shocked at the magnitude of devastation caused by the cloudburst in Kedarnath valley.
Rambada, which could be reached only on foot, had a police camp where more than 10 personnel, including women constables, were posted. There were about 35 commercial establishments, including shops and hotels, and about 85 families lived nearby. Pilgrims used to rest at Rambada before reaching Kedarnath.
Garhwal Commissioner Subardhan confirmed that Rambada was completely devastated and Uttarakhand DGP Satyabrat Bansal said police constables posted in Rambada could not be traced. “I am unable to give you the death toll. Rambada is devastated,” Subardhan said.
The state government said it had sent 10,000 food packets on the first day of rescue operations on Tuesday and 400 pilgrims who had taken shelter in the Kedarnath temple had been airlifted to safety. The government was giving high priority to also restore communication in about 40 per cent of its territory, particularly in the Garhwal region.
Besides Rambada and Kedarnath, Gaurikund has also witnessed large scale destruction. Pilgrims leave their vehicles in Gaurikund and cover a distance of about 14 km on foot to reach Kedarnath via Rambada. Reports said more than 100 vehicles parked in Gaurikund and about 40 hotels were swept away.
“Since the administration does not maintain a record of pilgrims’ entry into the Kedarnath valley at Gaurikund, you can only guess about the loss of lives. The vehicles being swept away clearly indicates the presence of pilgrims in Kedarnath valley where Gaurikund, Kedarnath and Rambada are located,” a police source said.
Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar told reporters that he could not get concrete information about the situation in Madkot valley. “There is information about casualties in Kalamuni and Munshiyari valley. But it is not an authentic report,” he said.
A government official said wireless sets, repeaters and fresh batteries had been sent to a few places hit by the disaster. “There is complete power failure in the entire hill region. Without power, you can’t get the batteries or cellphones charged,” he said.
The lack of road connectivity was making it tough to send equipment needed to restore telecommunication services and a few satellite phones had also been sent, he said.
“We also sent wireless sets, batteries and repeaters to important places, including Kedarnath and Badrinath temples by helicopters. NDRF has also got its communication equipment delivered at both the places,” the official said.
Due to telecommunication services collapsing, the state administration does not have clear information about pilgrims and tourists staying in Kumaun and Garhwal.
“This is an exceptional situation. This disaster has hit the state’s major parts at the same time. It is not localized in any particular area,” a government official said. Although the district administration has satellite phones, there were none at the tehsil, block and village level to connect them to the district administration, he added.
FLASH FLOOD POUNDS KEDARNATH SHRINE, FLATTENS SURROUNDINGS
A POWERFUL torrent slammed into the Kedarnath shrine (above) around 7 pm on Sunday, pelting the back wall of the temple complex with boulders and sweeping away every small structure in its path. An officer who is part of the rescue effort and spoke with survivors said the only pilgrims likely to have survived the flood were those inside the temple at the time.
THE TEMPLE itself is safe, officials said. There is a pile of debris at the entrance, and aerial surveys were unable to spot the idol of Nandi, they said. The railing around the temple and stairs at the entrance appeared to have been damaged. There was no information about over 1,000 mules and their masters who ferry pilgrims to the shrine from Gaurikund.