Says toll may cross 1000 as debris were cleared

Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Monday said the death toll could go over 1,000 as debris were cleared in cloudburst-affected areas in Uttarakhand and advised VIPs not to visit the State as it could hamper relief and rescue operations.

“We advise all VIPs not to visit Uttarakhand now. All agencies are engaged in relief and rescue efforts ... such visits hamper their work. And if any VIP does not listen … he may not get [helicopter] landing permission,” Mr. Shinde told journalists here.

Interestingly, Mr. Shinde’s statement came on a day when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi arrived in Dehradun to take stock of the situation.

He is also likely to visit some areas affected by flash floods. Apart from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who have made aerial visits to Uttarakhand, several Chief Ministers including Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Haryana) and Prithviraj Chavan (Maharashtra) have visited the State.

Mr. Shinde said the number of deaths could cross the 1,000-mark as the debris were being cleared. Rain is affecting rescue operations … It was raining there yesterday [Sunday] and there is rain today [Monday] as well. The focus is now on evacuating victims from Badrinath and nearby areas. Despite inclement weather, the rescue operations were on.”

Mr. Shinde pointed out that it was decided to evacuate first people from Kedarnath and those stuck in areas on the way to the shrine.