Zee Media Bureau
Dehradun: As weather continues to play a spoil sport in flood-hit Uttarakhand, rescue agencies, including the Army and the ITBP, Saturday morning resumed the evacuation process of stranded people from flood-hit areas of the hill state.
Security forces today rescued 17 foreign tourists from Dharasu and sighted 1000 pilgrims stuck between Kedarnath and Gaurikund even as bad weather hampered chopper operations at some places.
Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, meanwhile, arrived here to review ongoing rescue efforts in consultation with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna.
Briefing the media, Shinde said, “Despite bad weather Army, NDRF, ITBP are conducting rescue operations,” adding that “the operations are on a war footing.”
Giving details of the rescue operations, the Home Minister said that the identification of dead bodies has begun and DNA tests of bodies which are hard to identify will be undertaken.
“About 200 people are stuck in Jangalchetti, our priority right now is to provide them food somehow,” Shinde added.
An eight-member team of experts is also being sent to Kedarnath shrine today to take a count of bodies lying in the temple area, Disaster Management authorities here said.
Photos of the bodies strewn all over the area will be taken and put on the state government`s official website, they said.
Chopper operations were hampered here early this morning with overcast conditions delaying the programme of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was to undertake an aerial survey of the affected areas in Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.
About 1000 more pilgrims stranded in Rambara and Junglechatti areas en route to Kedarnath shrine in Rudraprayag district were sighted by security forces.
These people seem to have taken refuge in the gorges and ravines in these areas when the massive deluge occurred nearly a week ago.
Hungry for days, many of those sighted are ill and in need of immediate medical care, official sources said, adding the sick and ailing among them are being evacuated on a priority basis.
Apart from the 40 choppers in operation, the Rajasthan government has also given two choppers and 30 buses for evacuation of pilgrims.
The Gujarat government has also put into operation two chartered planes 747 Boeings (Jet Airways) with a capacity of 140 persons each to ferry pilgrims from the state stuck in high altitude areas to Ahmedabad.
A control room for pilgrims from Gujarat has been set up at Shantikunj Haridwar.
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".
Death toll over 550
Nearly 600 people have been killed in the Uttarakhand flood devastation, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna yesterday said.
"(A total of) 556 bodies have been recovered and there are reports more could be buried under the debris," the chief minister 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 would be possible for at least the next two years.
Debabrat Patra, ActionAid India`s regional manager for Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, said the situation in the hill state was "catastrophic".
"Our partners in the region have reported that nearly 5,000 people are still missing in Kedarnath, presumed dead," he said, in a grim forecast of what could turn out to be one of India`s worst natural disasters.
Uttarakhand saw over 60 hours of continuous and heavy rains coupled with few incidents of cloudbursts at various locations June 14 to 17, which led to the flooding of the state`s main rivers: Alaknanda and Bhagirathi.
With agencies inputs