At least 9 killed, rain hampers rescue

An Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force crashed killing at least nine people including crew members on board while on a rescue mission to Kedarnath in Gaurikund area on Tuesday. “The chopper crashed north of Gaurikund while returning from Kedarnath,” an IAF spokesperson said.

A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to investigate the crash, the spokesperson said.

Passengers in the helicopter included ITBP personnel and sadhus who were being evacuated, said Dilip Jawalkar, Rudraprayag District Magistrate.

Expressing anguish, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the brave men of the Indian Air Force had rescued hundreds of pilgrims stranded in treacherous terrain over the past week. Some 99,000 pilgrims have been rescued till date and 4,000 remain stranded at Badrinath and some other places and hopefully all will be rescued in the next two days, the State Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre said.

Rain continued to play spoilsport at many places. Rescue efforts are now focused on Badrinath and Harsil. About 1,000 people stranded at Harsil are waiting to be airlifted.

A good number of pilgrims stuck at Badrinath reached Gauchar via Joshimath on foot escorted through a makeshift bridge and ropeway by soldiers.

Rescue and relief operations for the stranded pilgrims continued at an increased pace on Tuesday even as thousands of residents of flood-ravaged villages in Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Almora cried for help, which did not seem to be coming as most of the main and link roads and bridges were washed away in last week’s rain fury.

The Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi visited Guptkashi and spoke to those affected, but the Bharatiya Janata Party cried foul. The Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had ordered that none other than Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna should be allowed to land in any disaster area. Complying with this the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi did not land anywhere and simply made an aerial survey, said Leader of the Opposition Ajay Bhatt.

Mr. Gandhi, who had gone by road up to Gauchar on Monday, flew to Guptkashi and Kedarnath on Tuesday. He had spent the night at a base camp set up at Gauchar.

The public outcry to cremate the dead before the rot from the bodies could lead to an epidemic saw the authorities rushing essentials like fuel wood and ghee for the cremations.

Post-mortem done on many of the dead showed that they had not eaten anything for a long time before meeting their end. Doctors returning from Kedarnath said insects and animals were eating away parts of the bodies and it would be better to cremate them before it was too late.

Mr. Bahuguna made an aerial survey of Maneri and Bhatwari and interacted with the victims in Chinyalisaur on Tuesday. He also held a review meeting with civil and military officials. Highly commending the role of the rescue and relief teams, Mr. Bahuguna assured the people that the government was aware of the problems in the disaster-hit villages and help was being rushed to them at a war footing.

Food and medicines supplies were also being rushed to Ukhimath, Guptkashi, Sonprayag, Harsil, Matli, Gauchar, Augastmuni and so on, Mr. Bahuguna said.

Meanwhile reports of massive devastation have come from Darma valley and Kapkot in Kumaon division.

The Rudraprayag District Magistrate Dilip Jawalkar has ordered officials to immediately provide relief to residents and shopkeepers in villages Tilwara, Sandar Belni, Geed Budhair, Nakot, Baniyadi, Saidi, Silli, Sayari, Tildi, Darmola, Kanadghar and so on. He has also ordered the PWD to keep the roads open by constantly monitoring landslide zones.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is deputing a high-level team to Uttarakhand on Wednesday to review the public health measures, an official spokesman said.

Three Central Public Health Teams had been posted to Uttarakhand on Sunday. Eight additional teams have also been kept on standby, ready to move at short notice.

District units of Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), NRHM, is conducting health surveillance in all affected districts. Diarrhoea cases were reported in Haridwar (Alwalpur), Uttarkashi (Udvi) and Rudraprayag (Chandrapuri) but health workers were able to contain them. No outbreak of water-, food-, air-borne diseases have been reported, a spokesperson said.

Chlorine tablets being procured

A specialist from National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme has been placed with the State government for assistance. On the State’s request, 10,00,000 chlorine tablets were being procured by the Centre.

Three truckloads of medical supplies have been delivered as sought by the State and more would be sent to Uttarakhand soon.

Some 1600 bags have been arranged through Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) and sent to Uttarakhand for carrying bodies, the spokesperson said.

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