More than 40 Army, Air Force and civil helicopters carried out rescue operations round the clock on Friday, rescuing thousands of stranded pilgrims from the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand.

According to Piyush Rautela, Executive Director, Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation Centre, 32,000 people are still stranded.

According to the Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation Centre, 550 people were reported dead by Friday night. Also, 392 people have been severely injured and 334 are missing.

The Ministry of Communications and IT has placed 739 towers in the affected Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts. However, of these, 207 towers are not yet operational and the remaining will be operational from Saturday.

Air India too has come to the rescue of the stranded by offering a discount on flights from Dehradun to Delhi and onwards. Some 4000 Border Roads Organisation (BRO) personnel are working in the State with 90 excavators and bull dozers for immediate clearance of roads to facilitate relief operations.

The operations to rescue the stranded from Gaurikund in Rudraprayag district also began on Friday.

According to official reports, all people from Dharansu in Uttarkashi district have been rescued.

Anand Sharma, Director, Meteorological Centre, Dehradun, said, “There will be light-to-moderate rainfall from June 23 to June 30.”

Any disturbance in the weather will severely hinder rescue efforts as the helicopters will not be able to fly in bad weather.

“Man-made disaster”

While the government is calling this a natural disaster, many scholars and scientists say that this is a man-made disaster as well. Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi said to The Hindu, “Floods generally occur after the soil is saturated. It is quite surprising that many places in Uttarakhand got flooded in the first rains of the monsoon.”

Bhushan said the floods were a proof of the reduced absorbing capacity of the soil in the State. He said major construction works being done were responsible for this.

Dr. Bharat Jhunjhunwala, former Professor at IIM Bangalore, said, “Blasting, which is done for the construction of dams and roads, weakens the hills and shakes the roots of trees. When the rains come, the weak hills break in the form of boulders. These boulders are then carried by the rivers and they in turn dash against other buildings, breaking them and carrying them along.”

Jhunjhunwala said debris-carrying rivers deposit muck which is hard to remove.

On Friday, in the Jolly Grant Hospital in Dehradun, 209 rescued who were injured were admitted. The injured are also being admitted in six other hospitals in the city in the hospitals in Srinagar and Rishikesh.

Kusumlata Kukreti from Dehradun was on glucose in the Jolly Grant Hospital. On Wednesday evening, Kukreti lost both her children when a landslide hit Sonprayag in Rudraprayag district. Sanjay Kaul, who was with Kukreti at Sonprayag, said, “The coordinated were specified to several helicopters but none reached for the rescue.”

Shubham Verma, a resident of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, along with his uncle Hari Om Varma, was rescued from Kedarnath to Guptkashi. Only two of his11 family members, who were present near Kedarnath, survived. “All the others died under the debris,” Verma said.

Verma broke his arm while struggling to get out of the debris. Verma was rescued from Kedarnath on Tuesday evening but since then he has been waiting outside the gates of the Jolly Grant Airport to get permission to dig out the bodies of his family members from Kedarnath. “I know where those bodies are. The officials will never be able to figure them out in the debris. I cannot go back home until I get back those bodies,” Verma said.

Vishal Saini from Kota, Rajasthan, is constantly in touch with his parents over the phone but he has no idea when they will be rescued. “Today morning too I spoke to them, they are without food and the rescue teams have not rescued them from Gaurikund,” Saini said.

Indresh Mekhuri from Chamoli said the view of Govindghat is horrific. The place occupied by the Govindghat market is now occupied by the Alaknanda.