Leh death toll rises to 165; 81 foreigners rescued

Rescue and relief efforts were being carried out on a war-footing in cloudburst-hit Leh region.

Leh: Rescue and relief efforts were being
carried out on a war-footing in cloudburst-hit Leh region as
81 foreigners and six tour guides, stranded in Zanskar Valley,
were Monday rescued by the Air Force while death toll mounted
to 165 and 400 others remained missing.

165 people have been killed of whom 150 have been
identified so far, official sources said, adding the victims
include a Romanian woman, 15 Nepalese nationals and two

Two French nationals and a Spaniard were yet to be
traced, they said.

The IAF carried out a record 62 sorties by Chetak
helicopters in five and half hours to bring back 81 foreign
campers and six tour guides from the 11,000-feet Zanskar
Valley who were stuck there since intervening night of August
5 and 6 after cloudburst and flash floods wreaked havoc in Leh
and surrounding areas.

The foreigners rescued include 17 British and French
nationals, nine people from the Netherlands, eight from
Czechoslovakia, seven Germans and four Israelis, according to
IAF officials.

200 people, including foreigners, are still stranded in
various places in the affected area, officials said.

Sniffer dogs, which arrived here by an IAF transport
aircraft, have been pressed into service to look for survivors
as relief efforts by security forces gained momentum who were
taking the help of heavy duty bulldozers and other machines to
clear the rubble.

The Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), General
Reserve Engineer Force (GREF), police and civilian authorities
were trying hard to remove the piles of mud and slush which
had buried villages in the worst-battered Choglusmar belt here
as well as to restore telephone links, the sources said.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today
visited Leh for the second time after the tragedy struck and
directed the Border Roads Organisation to clear the Manali-Leh
highway within next three days. He asked the officials engaged
in relief work to ensure that procedural formalities do not
delay the operation.

The highway which was swept away in flash floods is one
of the two road links between the `cold desert` and other
parts of the country.

Meanwhile, a fresh cloudburst in Kargil area on Saturday
has cut off many villages.

The IAF tried to airdrop essential items including tents
and clothing in the villages affected by the cloudburst as
roads were badly damaged, Tashi Tsetan, Deputy Director with
the development wing of the local administration, said.

The Air Force has been ferrying medicines, relief
material and doctors here using IL-76 and AN-32 aircraft and
has been flying out bodies of the victims to various places as
the highways remained cut-off.

With death and destruction all around, the miraculous
survival of a three-year-old girl brought cheers to the ITBP
personnel slugging it out in the tough conditions.

Shreejal, daughter of ITBP Deputy Commandant
(Engineering) Raj Kumar who was separated from her parents in
the flash floods, was found alive neck deep in slush in one of
the building in the battalion campus though her face had
several injuries.


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