Zee Media Bureau
Dehradun: Even as several central and state level agencies are carrying out relief and rescue operations in the flood-hit Uttarakhand, state’s Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna on Friday admitted that it will take a long time before normalcy returns back to the hill state.
“A total of 556 bodies have been recovered in flood-hit Uttarakhand, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said while speaking to a private TV news channel, adding that hundreds may have died in the terrible tragedy.
"(A total of) 556 bodies have been recovered and there are reports that more could be buried under the debris," Bahuguna said.
"This kind of disaster has never happened in the Himalayan history."
He said it would "take a long time to rebuild Uttarakhand" and that no pilgrimage to Kedarnath - the worst hit place - would be possible "for at least the next two years".
A weekend cloudburst in the Kedarnath region, home to one of the holiest Hindu shrines, and subsequent flooding in the hills have caused unprecedented destruction in Uttarakhand.
Until now, the officially admitted death toll was 500-plus. But officials and rescuers have warned that this could run into hundreds if not thousands.
Bahuguna admitted that Uttarakhand did not meet the norms of national disaster management, but said his administration was never warned about a cloudburst that ravaged Kedarnath.
The Chief Minister said about 30,000 people had been evacuated till now from the hills and other places and that there was no danger to those who were still stuck in certain areas.
"It`s very tragic that so many people have died in this calamity... It will take another 15 days to complete evacuation."
He said that evacuation of the stranded by the military and other security forces was taking time because roads had been badly damaged.
Bahuguna said the Uttarakhand government was very close to putting up a doppler radar to predict weather "but there were certain concerns by various ministries".
He added, "No authority or body could have handled the calamity of this scale and magnitude."
Earlier, referring to the massive rescue operations, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said around 34,000 people had been evacuated from various parts of the state.
The Home Minister, who is slated to visit the state on Saturday, further said that toll might go up as the debris were yet to be cleared.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) expressed hope that all the stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand would be rescued within two days and the rescue operations would be majorly completed by Saturday.
Addressing a press conference, DG Ajay Chadha said, “Hope to pull out almost everyone by Sunday; areas that were inaccessible till now have been reached.”
He further said, “Rescue operations have gathered pace as the weather has improved, the Army jawans are helping us; also, the three battalions of the force (about 3,000 troops) deployed in the state have rescued thousands of people.”
About 4,000 people have been rescued by the force from the area, he said.
Chadha added, “We are also trying to establish bridge connectivity to Badrinath. Pilgrims from Pandukeshwar will also be evacuated by Saturday.”
While assuring that no one will be left stranded in the flood affected area, Chadha said, “Almost all the people have been rescued from Kedarnath but we`ll remain there till we`re sure no one is left stranded.”
“All the government agencies are working in a perfect co-ordination to rescue people,” Chadha said.
The ITBP chief also asserted that, "Apart from pilgrims we have also rescued local residents in Uttarakhand. We are passing on all the information to the Uttarakhand government."
The rescue operations are going on in the state on a war footing launched by multiple agencies including the Army, IAF and ITBP since the heavy monsoon rains pounded the state a week ago.
The IAF deployed 13 more aircraft for relief and rescue work, taking to 43 the total number of planes in operation.
The aircraft including IAF`s heavylift Mi-26 helicopters --the world`s largest chopper--for transporting fuel and heavy equipment required by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to clear roads closed due to landslide and also set up an airbridge in one affected area to pull out stranded persons.
As the terrible magnitude of nature`s fury continued to unfold and survivors spoke of untold miseries, the death toll was expected to rise with Uttarakhand Principal Secretary Rakesh Sharma saying casualty figures can be "shockingly high".
With PTI inputs