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Bad weather halts rescue operations in Uttarakhand

Jun 27, 2013

The Health Department has warned people in adjoining areas not to consume river water as it may be highly polluted.

Air rescue operations resumed on Thursday to pull out stranded people but they had to be halted for Badrinath as the weather turned bad, even as decaying bodies were being cremated swiftly in worst-hit Kedarnath Valley amid fears of an epidemic outbreak.

Priests carried out the last rites of the victims, which had resumed on Wednesday after they were suspended because of inclement weather.

The Health Department has warned people in adjoining areas not to consume river water as it may be highly polluted.

With the air thick with foul smell of decaying bodies in the area adjoining the Kedarnath shrine, the department has expressed apprehensions about spread of various infectious diseases.

"We are now quickly cremating the bodies which have been recovered. But given the scale and nature of the tragedy, there is a likelihood that many bodies could still be lying in open spots, where rescue personnel have not been able to find or reach them," Ravikanth Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Guptkashi, said.

Meanwhile, 208 people have so far been evacuated from the Harsil sector but 600 more are still stranded.

"We were able to pull out 1,341 people from various sectors. From Badrinath, which is a key focus area, we could only pull out 350 because the weather gave an hour's opportunity, and we made use of that. The Harsil operation is likely to finish today," Air Commodore Rajesh Issar said in Dehradun.

Around 14 choppers are ready to fly to Badrinath to evacuate pilgrims, another IAF officer said.

"The moment the weather clears up,wewill resume the operations for Badrinath Dham," he said.

Rescue operations were hampered at Sahastradhara helipad in Dehradun on Thursday morning due to rains, but resumed as the weather cleared up later, with three choppers flying to the affected areas.

Brigadier Uma Maheshwari said the two hubs, where people were waiting to be evacuated were Badrinath and the Harsil-Gangotri access.

"If the helicopter evacuation continues, Harsil operation will be completed by the afternoon. That is, provided, the weather permits the choppers to fly," the officer said.

Maheshwari said 500 people had left Badrinath by foot and they were on route to Joshimath, and about 220 had crossed to Gobind Ghat, while the Hemkund access was all clear.

"The total distance from Badrinath to Joshimath is 43 kilometres, and out of this distance, the pilgrims have to walk only for 12 kilometres. For the rest of the distance, they will be moved by vehicles," the officer said, adding that the Army was giving confidence and motivation to undertake the land route.

Maheshwari said Army and civil aviation choppers had evacuated more than 100 people from isolated places in Uttarakhand since Thursday morning.

According to an official estimate on Wednesday, over 3,500 people were stranded in Badrinath and Harsil sectors.

The administration was carrying out mass cremation of bodies in Kedarnath, the epicentre of the tragedy, after identification, post mortem and DNA preservation formalities of the victims.

Truck loads of dry Deodar wood and ghee were dispatched to Kedarnath for mass ritual cremation of bodies strewn over the premises.

The number of bodies cremated, however, was not immediately known.

Nearly 350 still missing in Uttarakhand: NDMA

Nearly 350 people, hit by rains and flood in Uttarakhand continue to remain untraceable, raising fears that all of them are dead, Vice Chairman of NDMA M Sashidhar Reddy said.

"344 people are still missing. There are indications that the death toll may go up," he said at a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday.

According to official figures, so far 822 people lost their lives following the natural disaster in Uttarakhand.

Reddy said 2,000 people, trapped in different places in the hill state, were rescued on Tuesday and the National Disaster Management Authority hopes the rescue operation will be completed within a couple of days.

"Yesterday evening, almost 4,000 people were left stranded at different places. A day before, there were 6,000 people. Yesterday, 2,000 were rescued. This work shall be completed in two days," he said.

Reddy said efforts were being made to evacuate bodies under the debris in Kedarnath and the debris are eight to ten feet high.

The NDMA has sent a team of psychiatrists to Badrinath so that the people, who were stranded there for so many days, can get some counseling and the authority was in touch with the state health department officials.

"We are working on this (relief and rehabilitation) as quickly as possible," he said.

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