Death toll from the floods calamity is now 680; Bahuguna hints it could cross 1,000

As many as 123 bodies were recovered from the Kedarnath shrine premises in Uttarakhand after a team of experts scoured the venue on Saturday. The death toll from the flood calamity is now 680.

“Kedarnath has been totally cleared of pilgrims now and the next step would be to evacuate pilgrims from Badrinath, where nearly 8,000 people are still stranded,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters here on Saturday.

The Chief Minister said the restoration of the Kedarnath shrine was a priority and the State would take suggestions from the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Chief Minister said the casualty figures could easily touch the 1,000-mark.

More bodies may come to the surface in the next couple of days as the slush and debris lying in the area is being removed, said the official who did not want to be quotedMr. Bahuguna said both Central and State governments were trying their best to rescue stranded people. He said out of the 1,000 pilgrims sighted in Junglechatti area near Gaurikund earlier today, 400 have been evacuated. Food and medicines have been provided to the rest.

Mr. Bahuguna said the evacuation would be hastened after broken roads were restored: “I take heart from the fact that 529 breached roads have been repaired by the PWD. Pilgrims are being brought to Haridwar from Fata and Guptkashi areas.”

He said the bodies recovered would be disposed of as per traditional rituals and a Mahayagya held in Haridwar on the 13th day of the tragedy for the peace of the departed souls.

Even as criticism has been levelled about the efficiency of the rescue efforts in the State, some survivors were all praise for the Army.

Sukhvinder Singh, a Ludhiana native who was stuck for eight days on the way to Hemkunt Sahib, said: “The Army gave us food and water and helped us. Had they not been here, we wouldn’t have survived.”

Aman Bisht, who organises annual treks to the gurudwara, said: “The road links were shattered and we had no bridges left. And even if there was a road somewhere, it was broken. The Army has been very supportive.”

Family members and friends of those, who are stranded or missing in the hill state, have come to the capital city and are desperately searching hospitals and camps to get some news about their loved ones.

Another man alleged that “priority is being given to foreigners while Indians are left behind to die. My children have been stranded there for the last eight days without food and water.”