Officials warn of ‘shocking’ death toll

ITBP personnel rescue stranded pilgrims using a rope at Govindghat in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on Thursday. —Photo: PTI

ITBP personnel rescue stranded pilgrims using a rope at Govindghat in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on Thursday. —Photo: PTI  

Rescue work in Uttarakhand to gain momentum with reopening of 16 roads

Rescue operations in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, which remained affected until Thursday as helicopters faced bad weather, are now expected to speed up, as 16 badly blocked roads across the State were declared open.

They include roads reaching Guptkashi in Rudraprayag district and Joshimath in Chamoli district, which are crucial for rescue operations.

According to the Border Roads Organisation, National Highway 94 from Rishikesh to Dharasu and National Highway 108 from Dharasu to Gangotri (up to 30 km) were also declared open for light vehicles.

Rakesh Sharma, Principal Secretary (Industries), said: “Going beyond Rudraprayag and Joshimath would be impossible for the next six months or even a year.”

Until Thursday evening, the death toll was 105, with an equal number of people injured, said Bhaskar Joshi, Secretary, Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation Centre. However, the administration predicts a ‘shocking figure’ on the number of deaths once the survey of all the disaster-hit areas is complete.

According to the centre, 50,422 pilgrims are still stranded and 33,192 have been rescued by helicopters.

Of the pilgrims stranded in Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts, rescuing those stranded in Kedarnath and the surrounding valley is a priority as they have no access to food. Vacating pilgrims from Guptkashi and Gangotri is the next task as food and other material have been sent to these places. Rescue operation at Badrinath will start on Saturday. Helicopter crew have been instructed to give priority to the rescue of the elderly, women and children.

Mr. Joshi told The Hindu that of the 26 helicopters operated on Thursday, 14 rescued people from Kedarnath. Two other choppers were sent to the Kumaon region to rescue people, mainly from Pithoragarh district.Twenty-thousand food packets were sent to the disaster-struck areas on Thursday but several were washed away in the river after being airdropped.Indo-Tibetan Border Police spokesperson Deepak Pandey said a helipad was under construction at Kedarnath.

On Thursday, people thronged the gates of Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun where the rescued were being dropped. Carrying photographs of their relatives from whom they had not heard for almost five days, they stopped buses and cars and asked: “ inhe kahin dekha hai kya [have you seen them anywhere]?”

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