Leh: Rescuers battle to look for 500 missing; toll at 145

Last Updated: Sunday, August 8, 2010 - 18:49

Choglumsar: Rescue workers struggled
through piles of mud and slush looking for over 500 people
missing in Friday`s devastating cloudburst that flattened
villages and snapped power and communication links, even as the
death toll in the tragedy today mounted to 145.

The once picturesque landscape has turned into a
disaster zone, with tossed up vehicles lying scattered and
mounds of silt and slush burying houses made of mud called
`gomfa` and shops.

Walking on the layers of unstable mud in one of the
worst-hit Choglusmar village, you could find the high tension
wires hanging right next to you.

Rescuers waded through knee-deep mud to extricate
trapped people. Jawans of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP),
Army and General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) ploughed
through the silt and boulders with earth movers, cranes and
other machines, and even tourists were seen giving a helping hand.

The death toll has climbed to 145 while over 500 were
still to be accounted for after the cloudburst and flash
floods, official sources said.

Both the ITBP and the Army have set up various camps
to look after hundreds of injured. The ITBP has also set up
community kitchens along the roads which are feeding the
homeless.

The biggest roadblock that rescue workers are facing
is communication breakdown as the BSNL office was severely
damaged in the deluge.

"The major problem is due to the communication
breakdown. If communication is restored it will help in
co-ordination of rescue operations in a better way," Pashi
Tsetan, deputy director with the development wing of the local
administration, said.

The district hospital building had been inundated by
the swirling waters forcing the administration to move to an
under-construction building.

Hundreds of people with bandages crowd the building.
Doctors say many of the injured were swept away by the deluge
for considerable distances before being rescued.

The bodies of two French nationals identified as
Augariwelus and Hellot were retrieved from under the debris,
the sources said.

Meanwhile, Army today said 33 soldiers were washed
away in flash floods in Shyok river of Ladakh region near
Siachen on Friday.

The Army has sought the help of Pakistani authorities
to trace the personnel who were on duty on the Line of Control
as they fear that they might have been swept away towards
Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the deluge.

A group of about 45 National Disaster Response Force
(NDRF) personnel have also joined the rescue efforts in Leh.
The NDRF team has brought with them high-tech equipment to
gear up rescue operations.

"The focus is on rescue operations. This is a disaster
of huge proportions. The effort of all agencies is to rescue
the maximum number of people," said ITBP DIG P K Dhasmana who
is leading hundreds of rescuers.

As many as 1,314 passengers, mostly Indian and foreign
tourists, were airlifted from Leh and brought to Delhi,
Aviation Ministry sources said.

Jet Airways and Air India operated four flights each
and Kingfisher Airlines three to carry medical and other relief
material, doctors and para medics to help affected people in
Leh, they said.

Three IL-76 and four AN-32 aircraft carrying relief
material reached Leh this morning.

"We have recovered 145 bodies so far while the number
of missing is around 500," an official said, adding the toll
may go up.

ITBP is helping plug the breaches to make NH-1A
between Srinagar-Kargil and Kargil-Leh functional.

Faced with an acute shortage of clean drinking water,
the ITBP has dispatched tankers containing drinking water to
the affected areas, Deepak Pandey, spokesperson for the border
guarding force, said.

The force has also established a medical camp in Saboo
village, which is located above Chuglumsar village, Pandey
said.

Bodies of eleven persons were today flown in an IAF
plane to Udhampur in Jammu region from where they were sent to
Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan, police said.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, August 8, 2010 - 18:49

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