Zee Media Bureau
Dehradun: The tragedy in Uttarakhand is slated to worsen with the death toll expected to cross 5,000, even as all those stranded in the temple town of Kedarnath were evacuated. The Army and others involved in the rescue operations on Sunday battled rains to evacuate at least 3000 people.
There was more bad news as the weather department reiterated its warning of adverse weather conditions from Monday, with over 19,000 remaining stranded in different parts of the state.
Meanwhile, giving fresh updates on rescue operations, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said, "While 450 people have been rescued from Harsil, 1500 still remain stranded there and 5000 are still stuck in Badrinath."
"The tragedy is still unfolding and a conclusive figure can only be arrived at after the rescue teams reach the areas devastated by the rains of the last weekend," he said.
He said scores of houses had caved in after the cloudburst near Kedarnath and unprecedented rains while slush in many areas had crushed locals and pilgrims, raising the spectre of a frightening death toll.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Secretary has said that last rites of all the bodies found in Kedarnath will be performed in the temple city itself.
"DNA samples and photographs will be taken before the last rites," he added.
On the basis of reports reaching Dehradun from the hills, the Uttarakhand police control room also said the death toll would rise much above 1,000.
Lt Gen Anil Chait, Commander-in-Chief of the Army`s Central Command, which is spearheading the rescue operation, said that the army will rescue every single person stranded even in the remotest hills.
Admitting that this was "by far the worst tragedy" he had come across in his career, he said about 8,500 soldiers of the mountain division and medical core were deployed in the rescue and evacuation efforts.
"We have also been able to shift more than 18,000 people stranded for days in Gangotri, Joshimath, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Pindari glacier," Gen Chait said.
He said fresh rains and inclement weather were a frightening prospect, and that army helicopters were able to rescue only seven to eight people at a time.
"A six-layered strategy of evacuation has been prepared," he said.
These were: sorties by choppers, mobilization of resources, evacuation to relief camps, moving people from relief camps to base areas, search operation to locate and rescue the missing, and rebuilding the battered areas and infrastructure.
The most difficult place to reach was Jangal Chatti area, one official said, adding that more than 15,000 people were still to be evacuated in the state.
With most parts of Uttarakhand witnessing overcast skies and the met department forecasting heavy rain in the next 48 hours, the thousands who are still stranded face a frightening challenge.
"If the rains restart, our choppers would not be able to fly and the rescue sorties will have to be stopped," said a senior official.
Heavy rains are expected between June 25 and 27, and even multi-layered clouds will hamper flying.
Heavy rains are forecast in Pithoragarh, Uttarkashi and Chamoli districts, among the worst hit areas.
With more than 1,000 major and minor roads washed away, officials say air rescue is the only way to get trapped people to safety. But some roads are now open.
Besides the army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) are working against time to make new routes through the hills and rescuing people on foot.
With Agency inputs