Fresh landslides in U`khand, rescue ops hit by heavy rains

Fresh spells of rain, landslides and cloudburst at a number of places including the higher reaches of Pauri, Chamoli and Rudraprayag districts of calamity-hit Uttarakhand on Monday hampered the on-going rescue and evacuation operations in the hill state.

Last Updated: Jun 24, 2013, 21:01 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

Dehradun: Fresh spells of rain, landslides and cloudburst at a number of places including the higher reaches of Pauri, Chamoli and Rudraprayag districts of calamity-hit Uttarakhand on Monday hampered the on-going rescue and evacuation operations in the hill state.

The Army, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Air Force are scrambling to evacuate those who are stranded.

However, around 1,000 of the remaining 10,000 stranded people have being evacuated and are likely to be stalled for three days with heavy rains being forecast.

Due to the inclement weather only 164 out of a total of 5,000 pilgrims stuck in the high-altitude temple town of Badrinath could be evacuated to Joshimath in the few small six-seat aircraft that could make limited sorties.

State officials said Rudraprayag witnessed heavy rains and once again communication to Tilwada and Gaurikund has been cut off.

More than 500 people are believed to be stuck at Gaurikund, but efforts to bring them back to safety had to be aborted following heavy rains in the region.

However, the rain-marred rescue efforts saw a total of a little around 1,000 pilgrims being evacuated from different areas including the Himalayan shrine in Chamoli district and the Gangotri valley, Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar told reporters in Dehradun.

Apart from 164 evacuated from Badrinath, 830 were evacuated from Harshil, Maneri and Bhatwari in Uttarkashi district to Dharasu, he said.

The bad weather grounded most of the big military choppers from bringing people to safety while small helicopters managed to evacuate only 164 from Badrinath, 11 from Pandukeshwar and 18 from Lambagar in Chamoli district.

Eight choppers of the Indian Air Force (IAF) were pulled back from rescue operations following heavy rains and inclement weather in Devprayag, which made flying dangerous and at places impossible.

Reports from Chamoli and Pauri districts said it was raining in the higher reaches hampering chopper operations. The state capital Dehradun was also drenched with rain.

Fresh landslips in Rudraprayag and on Badrinath highway also choked the route.
Besides rains and landslides, a cloudburst was reported in Mulan village in Paithani kasba in Pauri following incessant rains. Many houses collapsed but casualties, if any, were not immediately known.

"Not even a single chopper could be flown in the morning from Sahasradhara helipad in Dehradun. However, when the weather improved in the afternoon a couple of sorties were made by private choppers which ferried about 17 pilgrims from Gauchar," Wing Commander(Retd) Capt RS Brar, who has been entrusted with the task of overseeing air rescue operations, told PTI.

The ITBP said it may take another three days to resume the evacuation process.

However, the Air Force is carrying out air rescue efforts wherever possible.

Owing to heavy rains water levels have once again risen in Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers in the Rudraprayag region. Other parts in the state, including Pithoragarh, Nainital, Champawat, Udhamsinghnagar and Haldwani, have also received widespread rains today.

Uttarakhand`s Minister for Disaster Management Yashpal Arya said that for now the focus of the state government and other agencies was on rescuing people stranded in various parts of the Char Dham Yatra route.

Army officials who are involved in the rescue operations conceded that rains and inclement weather have slackened the pace of the evacuation and the choppers would only be flying in full force once the weather clears up.

Most of the people from Kedarnath area have been rescued while there are a few held up at Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, who are being "slowly evacuated", Director General of Indian Tibetan Border Police Ajay Chadha said in New Delhi.

"We can resume the rescue operations once air sorties can be conducted," he told reporters, adding that the weather was expected to improve by June 28.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) in its forecast update this afternoon said, "Heavy to very heavy rainfall, of upto 25 cm, would occur at one or two places over Uttarakhand during the next 72 hours.

Next two-three days are crucial for the relief and rescue teams as the Met department has predicted adverse weather and moderate rains on Monday.

A week after heavy rain and floods ravaged the hill state, nearly 80,000 people have been rescued so far, however, 10,000 people still remain stranded across Uttarakhand and more than 5000 people are feared to be dead in the worst natural calamity, which is now being referred as the Himalayan Tsunami.

As per reports, rescuers evacuated by road and air at least 12,000 people while 10,000 survivors still remained to be taken to safety.

Kedarnath Valley, the temple town which was the epicenter of the floods and landslides, was also cleared of all stranded pilgrims in stepped up rescue operations aid intermittent rains which led to evacuation of 12,00 pilgrims and tourists.

So far, over 80,000 people have been evacuated, including 12,000 today, to safer areas in the rain-ravaged state with some 10,000 people still stranded in various places, DG, Press Information Bureau Neelam Kapur also said in Delhi on Sunday.

A Defence Ministry release said 45 choppers airlifted more than 3,200 people in 250 sorties in the IAF operations.

The NDRF also deployed its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) `Netra` to help locate survivors in various areas. NDRF DIG SS Guleria said the UAV will operate tomorrow as well to ensure all survivors are located and eventually evacuated.

Rope bridges and foot tracks were also being built and new routes opened to speed up the mammoth evacuation work, offering a "silver lining" for the stranded people.

With PTI inputs