Everybody has horrifying stories to tell and it is not just the survivors

“Take me back, I want to go back...” This was how some survivors of the massive Uttarakhand floods cried in an emotional outburst when they returned on Friday with some member or other of their family or assorted group of pilgrims and tourists not among their midst after going through a harrowing five-day ordeal.

As a rescue helicopter touched down this helipad in Uttarakhand capital on a sombre, cloudy day in the hills, out stepped a group of five adults and three children. Among them, was a man in his late 30s..

He bursts out crying the moment he disembarks. What was surely a moment of joy for a survivor was starkly not so.

“Take me back, I want to go back... My two children, my wife Rita, my parents are still stranded there with seven others.” That is all Amit Pande of Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh could say before being choked by a fresh spasm of tears.

That is the situation of countless survivors who have been trickling into Dehradun; many have still to locate their kin and friends with whom they had embarked on a trip to the hills.

Everybody has horrifying stories to tell and it is not just the survivors.

For instance, Mansi from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur had come to Sahasradhara accompanied by a family member and two photographs of her sister, brother-in-law and their son posing together. All three are missing.

She spoke to her sister on Tuesday when the latter managed to call on her way down from Kedarnath, the epicentre of the massive floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains.

“They said they have climbed down 4 km on foot, but rescue teams were yet to reach them. They have no food, no water. They mentioned seeing bodies lying around the temple area. Please find them and rescue them,” she said. Mansi could not fight back the tears as she requested a police officer to help her. .

“I don’t have any other siblings. She is my only sister,” she pleaded. Officials in-charge of rescue operations said that their mission was on at full throttle.

The machines at the helipad were all privately-operated ones. Each could at best carry a handful of people, grossly inadequate when compared to the colossal magnitude of the human tragedy caused by nature’s fury.

But for eyes scouring the skies for the conditions to clear, the helicopter seems to be the only hope. Although Rakesh Sharma, the Uttarakhand Principal Secretary in-charge of rescue operations, said that a land route from Gaurikund till Rishikesh had been cleared.

“Thirty-thousand people are coming down by road. 4,000 people, who are among the critical cases, are still left in and around Kedarnath. But all will be rescued by today or tomorrow,” Mr. Sharma said at Sahasradhara.

Dinesh Bhagwari was one of the first to be evacuated from Guptkashi. He was at Sahasradhara on Friday, waiting for a helicopter to bring him his 17-year-old son, still stranded in Kedarnath.

“A little after 8 p.m., I heard shouts Aa gaya, Aa gaya. Everybody started running towards the temple. I too followed with my son. There were some 200-odd people with us. I am sure all of them managed to get out safe. But those who could not reach higher ground in time... Well, the Lord takes care of us all,” Mr. Bhagwari says.

As to his son, Mr. Bhagwari said he saw him last on June 18, before he was airlifted.

“He was safe and secure. He asked me to leave first and said he would follow. But there’s still no sign of him arriving here. But I’m sure he is safe,” Mr. Bhagwari said, looking straight ahead, his focus seemingly on some faraway object and not on those standing around him.

Being on higher ground was the stroke of luck which saved a family from Rajasthan, among them two children.