Hectic search on for survivors; rain hampers rescue work

Even as the death toll in the flash floods which hit the mountain town in the small hours of Friday, rose to 130 on Saturday, more than 500 people are still missing. Hectic rescue operations involving thousands of Army, police personnel and civilians are still on.

Officials confirmed that 130 bodies have been recovered. Most of the over 500 injured are being treated at the Army hospital since the Civil Hospital was also damaged.

The old Leh town villages of Saboo, Choglamsar and Phyang were badly affected, with Choglamsar, where people were buried alive in sleep, the worst affected.

Scores of bulldozers and other machinery have been pressed into service all over the town to clear the debris, left behind by the rain havoc. For some time, rescue work was hampered by rain but resumed later in the afternoon. Roads have been cleared to some extent but the torrent of water flowing down eroded portions is causing problems for the people. All business activity has come to a standstill.

Since the roads, and several government buildings including the local BSNL headquarters, and hospital, suffered heavy damage, rescue work was slow and difficult. Over 1,200 Army personnel are working round the clock to clear the rubble.

“It is very difficult to locate the bodies as the houses have simply fallen in under the heavy mud,” said an official of disaster management. He said communication lines with many villages were down and the required machinery could not be sent. “But the locals with the help of officials and Army are trying to reach the dead and survivors” he said.

As worked out by officials on the basis of records available the estimated number of missing was over 500 and their fate not known. “The death toll can be on the higher side,” Deputy Commissioner of Leh T. Angchuk said.

High priority is being given to restoring the road links, as hundreds are stranded at various places. Disaster control rooms have been set up to co-ordinate the rescue efforts and help the affected.

Providing shelter and food to those rendered homeless is a major task. However, with the clearance of the runway, five Indian Air Force planes landed with medicine, relief material, doctors and top officials of the National Disaster Management. Commercial flights have also landed in Leh after remaining suspended for a day.

Authorities have set up four rehabilitation camps, where nearly 2,000 people are being taken care of. As power lines are down, people are facing enormous difficulties. But the solar energy-driven supply is providing some relief to them.

Despite being hit by the floods, which caused damage to its infrastructure, stores and equipment, the Army's 14 Corps headquarters mobilised its resources on a war footing to launch rescue operations.

Three soldiers were killed and 28 missing in the disaster. Army spokesman Colonel J.S. Brar said: “The Army employed all its resources and manpower in conjunction with the civil administration to evacuate the injured locals and provide them treatment at the Military Hospital, Leh. They used heavy machineries to remove the debris and recover bodies.”

“Nearly 300 locals with serious injuries are being treated by the Army at the Military Hospital and more casualties are arriving.”

Commander of 14 Corps Lt. Gen. S.K. Singh, conducted an aerial survey of the devastation, followed by a visit to the disaster-struck areas.