Officials who reached Gaurikund and Kedarnath said some bodies had decomposed and stood no chance of being identified.

The DNA of those who died in the Uttarakhand floods and cannot be identified now is being preserved, with officials saying that many of the bodies have decomposed.

Officials of the State Government, with forensic experts, sub-divisional magistrates and police officials, have now started an operation to identify dead bodies and in cases where they cannot, preserve their DNA.

The officials reached Gaurikund and Kedarnath and said that some bodies had decomposed and stood no chance of being identified.

“Things are in a mess, many bodies have been eaten up by dogs, many have decomposed and many are lying buried under the debris, mud and boulders,” said an official.

With people and pilgrims stranded at the Kedar valley completely evacuated on Sunday, the army and other authorities involved in the rescue would on Monday begin to focus on people still caught up in Badrinath and Harsil, officials said.

Officials told IANS that the death toll and trail of devastation would now become more harrowing as rescuers spend their energy on fishing out the dead from the Kedar valley and the nearby areas.

“Dozens of villages, several vehicle parking lots where cars were parked with the drivers inside, have been washed away in the torrential rains ... there must be hundreds missing from there,” the official said.

A day after Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said he feared that 1,000 people might have been killed in the calamity, the State’s Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya put the death toll at “at least 5,000.”

Interacting with reporters at the Jolly Grant airport in the State capital, Mr. Arya said: “At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge, we cannot say with surety but the number can go even higher.”

People returning to safety from the rain ravaged areas put the number of dead at “many thousands (with) many (who) died of cold, illness, lack of food and water.”

Snehil Gupta, a youth who had gone to Kedarnath from Uttarakhand told IANS that he had seen “...people dead on road sides, in jungles and in villages” as he trekked his way to safety on a hill with two of his friends. His car and driver are yet untraced.