Amarnath tragedy: 15 bodies retrieved, rescue ops on as 2 pulled out alive from debris

Over 65 stranded persons, many of them injured, were rescued, as multiple teams combed through rubble. They are shifting the survivors to safer locations from the narrow valley below the temple

Updated - July 09, 2022 10:09 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2022 09:28 am IST - SRINAGAR

Indian army soldiers carry the body of a heavy rainfall victim at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65 miles) northeast of Srinagar on July 09, 2022.

Indian army soldiers carry the body of a heavy rainfall victim at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65 miles) northeast of Srinagar on July 09, 2022. | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad

The bodies of 15 pilgrims who were caught in Friday’s flash flood near the Amarnath cave temple were recovered on Saturday, authorities involved in the rescue operations said.

Over 65 stranded persons, many of them injured, were rescued, as multiple teams combed through rubble. They are shifting the survivors to safer locations from the narrow valley below the temple. The flash flood triggered by an anomalous weather event led to massive flooding and displacement of boulders on Friday.

“A massive joint rescue operation is in progress. So far, 15 bodies have been retrieved and 35 injured persons have been airlifted for medical attention. They are stable. Efforts are on to clear the debris by the evening and locate both the dead and survivors,” Inspector-General of Police Vijay Kumar said.

Official assessment suggested that the casualties included seven women. Two pilgrims were saved from the debris, officials said. Not all dead pilgrims could be identified immediately, they said. BSF helicopters shifted the bodies to Srinagar, where the identification process was on.

There is no official confirmation on the number of those missing. However, many of the 41 pilgrims reported missing on Friday were traced during the rescue operations on Saturday. “The situation will be more clear only after debris is removed. There are chances that the whole group was washed away and no one was left behind to raise the alarm,” another official said.

An Army spokesman said 28 injured pilgrims were evacuated from the cave area to the Nilagrar medical camp in Baltal. “After stabilising, 11 were shifted to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Hospital, Srinagar, for treatment,” the spokesman said. The condition of two injured was stated “to be critical”.

An Indian Air Force spokesman said 65 sorties were conducted on Saturday and 108 injured people were evacuated.

The Army, the Border Security Force, the J&K police and the civil administration deployed helicopters to attend to the needs of affected pilgrims. Dog squads, hand-held thermal imagers and cutters were used to trace those missing.

After early morning showers, the weather improved during the day. Hundreds of stranded pilgrims descended from the temple towards the Pahalgam axis in south Kashmir. However, the Baltal axis in Ganderbal district in central Kashmir remained closed as the tracks had turned slippery due to rain.

“All stranded pilgrims are being shifted to Pahalgam. The yatra may resume within a day or two,” Kuldiep Singh, Director-General, CRPF, said.

Meanwhile, many survivors recounted the harrowing experience they faced on Friday. “In a jiffy, the mud and sludge descending from the hill top filled the lower areas and entered the tents where people were resting. We could see pilgrims being swept away by the gushing waters,” Naresh Kumar from Uttar Pradesh said.

T. Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana, said he had never witnessed such scenes before. “The place we dined in and the places we sat and talked were all washed away within no time,” Mr. Singh said.

Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General, India Meteorological Department, said the temple area recorded 31 mm of rainfall between 4.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. on Friday, which is too low to be categorised as a cloudburst.

“The flash floods may have been triggered by rainfall in the higher reaches of the mountains near the Amarnath cave shrine,” he said.

Sonam Lotus, Director of the Regional Meteorological Centre in Srinagar, said it was a highly localised cloudburst over the holy cave.

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