Leh: Rescuers battle to look for 500 missing; toll at 145



Leh: Rescuers battle to look for 500 missing; toll at 145 Choglumsar: Rescue workers struggled through piles of mud and slush looking for over 500 people missing in Friday's devastating cloudburst that flattened villages and snapped power and communication links, even as the death toll in the tragedy today mounted to 145.

The once picturesque landscape has turned into a disaster zone, with tossed up vehicles lying scattered and mounds of silt and slush burying houses made of mud called 'gomfa' and shops.

Walking on the layers of unstable mud in one of the worst-hit Choglusmar village, you could find the high tension wires hanging right next to you.

Rescuers waded through knee-deep mud to extricate trapped people. Jawans of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Army and General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) ploughed through the silt and boulders with earth movers, cranes and other machines, and even tourists were seen giving a helping hand.

The death toll has climbed to 145 while over 500 were still to be accounted for after the cloudburst and flash floods, official sources said.

Both the ITBP and the Army have set up various camps to look after hundreds of injured. The ITBP has also set up community kitchens along the roads which are feeding the homeless.

The biggest roadblock that rescue workers are facing is communication breakdown as the BSNL office was severely damaged in the deluge.

"The major problem is due to the communication breakdown. If communication is restored it will help in co-ordination of rescue operations in a better way," Pashi Tsetan, deputy director with the development wing of the local administration, said.

The district hospital building had been inundated by the swirling waters forcing the administration to move to an under-construction building.

Hundreds of people with bandages crowd the building. Doctors say many of the injured were swept away by the deluge for considerable distances before being rescued.

The bodies of two French nationals identified as Augariwelus and Hellot were retrieved from under the debris, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Army today said 33 soldiers were washed away in flash floods in Shyok river of Ladakh region near Siachen on Friday.

The Army has sought the help of Pakistani authorities to trace the personnel who were on duty on the Line of Control as they fear that they might have been swept away towards Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the deluge.

A group of about 45 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel have also joined the rescue efforts in Leh. The NDRF team has brought with them high-tech equipment to gear up rescue operations.

"The focus is on rescue operations. This is a disaster of huge proportions. The effort of all agencies is to rescue the maximum number of people," said ITBP DIG P K Dhasmana who is leading hundreds of rescuers.

As many as 1,314 passengers, mostly Indian and foreign tourists, were airlifted from Leh and brought to Delhi, Aviation Ministry sources said.

Jet Airways and Air India operated four flights each and Kingfisher Airlines three to carry medical and other relief material, doctors and para medics to help affected people in Leh, they said.

Three IL-76 and four AN-32 aircraft carrying relief material reached Leh this morning.

"We have recovered 145 bodies so far while the number of missing is around 500," an official said, adding the toll may go up.

ITBP is helping plug the breaches to make NH-1A between Srinagar-Kargil and Kargil-Leh functional.

Faced with an acute shortage of clean drinking water, the ITBP has dispatched tankers containing drinking water to the affected areas, Deepak Pandey, spokesperson for the border guarding force, said.

The force has also established a medical camp in Saboo village, which is located above Chuglumsar village, Pandey said.

Bodies of eleven persons were today flown in an IAF plane to Udhampur in Jammu region from where they were sent to Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Rajasthan, police said.

PTI