Authorities have started cremating the dead at Kedarnath. The task is challenging as the area is engulfed by foul smell emanating from decaying corpses

With the focus still on rescuing stranded pilgrims, residents of many villages desperate for food and medicines — across Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudraprayag in Garhwal and Pithoragarh and Almora in Kumaon division — are receiving little attention. These villages were badly mauled by last week’s rains and floods that carried away houses, foodgrain stocks and cattle.

Mahavir Tamta of Dharchula wondered why the government was sending no help to the villages of the area where people have been starving since last week.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the government would ensure that rations and other material reached the affected villages, which are cut off due to damaged roads and bridges, in the next few days. “We will use helicopters, if required, and mules will also be used for the purpose,” he said.

Meanwhile, the authorities started the process of cremating the dead at Kedarnath on Wednesday. The task is challenging as the area is engulfed by foul smell emanating from decaying corpses. Doctors have warned of an epidemic breaking out unless the entire area is cleared of bodies immediately.

Some 3,600 people were rescued from Harsil, Gaurikund and Badrinath bringing the number of rescued persons so far to 1,03,000. About 3,000 persons are still stranded at Badrinath and Harsil.

The Sahastradhara helipad and J`olly Grant airport were the scene of frantic relatives running from counter to counter displaying photographs of missing persons. Vinod Singh from Ludhiana wanted to be taken back to Kedarnath to find his mother — dead or alive.

Mahesh from Bhopal could be seen sobbing as no one could tell him the whereabouts of three friends who had vanished from Kedarnath on June 17. “I am safe and alive but what about my friends,” he asks.

Air Chief N.A.K. Browne rushed to Uttarakhand to take stock of the situation and boost the morale of the forces after an Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force crashed near Gaurikund on Tuesday, killing all 20 persons on board. The troops have recovered all the bodies and transported five of them to Guptkashi.

Talking to reporters at Jolly Grant airport near here, the Air Chief said, “We owe it to the lives of our people whom we have lost and will make sure the job is completed successfully. The morale of all the troops — the Indian Air Force, the Army, the ITBP and the NDRF — is very high and we will continue to accomplish the task successfully with a smile,” he said adding that the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the Flight Data Recorder had been recovered and the reason of the crash — technical fault or weather problem — would be known in a few days.

Of the 20 people on board, five were from the Air Force, nine from the NDRF, and six from the ITBP.

The Air Chief later visited Gauchar and held discussions with IAF officers and urged them to keep up the good work till the last stranded person was rescued.

Mr. Bahuguna announced a day of mourning on Wednesday in memory of those who lost their lives in Tuesday’s chopper crash and an ex gratia of Rs. 10 lakh each to the kin of those killed. He said the government would provide an economic package to people whose property had been destroyed in Kedarnath.

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