S. Ramalakshmi (name changed), in her 40s, left for a pilgrimage to north India with 37 others from Villupuram on June 8. “Two of my fellow travellers died of starvation in the cold while 10 others are missing; only 17 of us returned,” she sobbed. Ramalakshmi is one of the 84 pilgrims who arrived at Chennai airport on Sunday after being stranded in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand for more than a week.

After a dip at Gangotri, Yamunotri and a darsan at Haridwar, she left for Kedarnath. “We travelled around eight km, from Sitapur for Kedarnath, when the rains halted our movement. And for the next five days, all we saw were buildings, cars and horses being washed away by the flood waters. I can’t believe I’m still alive,” she said.

“I am still haunted by the scenes of destruction. We saw around 50 cars being washed away by the Mandakini river in a few minutes,” said 63-year-old R. Sethuraman from Kumbakonam. He also said that the inability to communicate with relatives worried them a lot. “There was no signal and many of our phones ran out of charge,” he said.

The pilgrims were appreciative of the speed of the relief operations but said the government of Uttarakhand had found it very tough to handle nature’s fury.

District administration officials said that of the nearly 700 pilgrims from the State who were in Uttarakhand during the floods, 310 people had arrived so far. Another 20 may reach Chennai by Andaman Express on Monday morning.

40 arrive by train

Around 40 pilgrims returned to Chennai by train on Sunday morning. According to Southern Railway officials, the pilgrims had left Delhi by Tamil Nadu Express on Friday night and reached Chennai Central railway station at 7 a.m.

The officials said at least 15 of the pilgrims were from Chennai and 10 from Madurai.

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