U'khand floods: No epidemics reported, evacuation of the elderly a priority, says Home Minister



Dehradun/New Delhi: Adequate steps have been taken to prevent outbreak of an epidemic in flood-hit Uttarakhand and there are no reports of any disease spreading, a senior official involved in the relief efforts said Friday.

On his part, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the evacuation of old people, women and children stranded in Badrinath was the top priority of the teams involved in rescue efforts, with the army chief adding that this would depend on weather conditions.

According to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) vice chairman M Shashidhar Reddy, "We have not received reports of any kind of epidemic. As a preventive measure bleaching powder, chlorine tablets are dispatched to various places to sanitise places wherever it is required. About 50 doctors are on standby, they will be reach the local villages, and some of them might stay there for two to three months".

According to NDMA, of the 20,000 villages in Uttarakhand, 2,395 villages are affected in one form or another by the calamity and while 1,636 villages have been connected, 759 villages are yet to be reached.

"As the restoration of roads will take longer, the Border Road Organisation (BRO) has been told at least to provide new walking tracks or footpaths so the supplies can be carried and they can be transited to the villages which can be accessed," Reddy said.

The incessant and intense rains that hit Uttarakhand over three days from June 14, causing flash floods and landslides, have led to hundreds of deaths, while many are missing. There were thousands of pilgrims in Badrinath and Kedarnath areas when the tragedy struck the region.

In Dehradun, Home Minister Shinde said: "There are people still stranded in Badrinath. Our priority is to rescue elderly people, women and children and then get the youth and others out of there."

The rescue efforts would be on in the rain-ravaged state for another 15 days, the home minister added.

"We are operating 17 helicopters to evacuate the stranded people. The Indian Air Force helicopters will stay in the state for 15 more days to finish the rescue and relief work," he said.

He also lauded the coordination between various agencies involved in rescue and relief operations.

"There is an excellent coordination between the (rescue) teams working in Uttarakhand. There were some problems in the initial few days, but after June 21 the work went on in full swing," Shinde noted.

He said there was no clarity as to how many bodies are still buried in the debris caused by flash-floods and landslides in the hill state.

The army chief, General Bikram Singh, told reporters after arriving at the Gauchar air base in Chamoli district: "We are getting information that some survivors are still stranded in north Badrinath. Yesterday (Thursday) we had sent some sorties but the rescue teams were unable to locate them. The time for their (pilgrims') evacuation cannot be specified as it depends on the weather."

"We will get all the citizens out wherever they are," Gen. Singh added.

He lauded the efforts of troopers from various forces involved in relief and rescue efforts.

"I would like to laud the efforts of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Indo-Tibetan Police Force (ITBP) and the Indian Air Force (IAF). They have done a great job along with the Indian Army," he added.

In New Delhi, the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, paid tributes to the five air warriors who died in a helicopter crash during a rescue mission in Uttarakand.

Air Chief Marshal Browne laid wreaths on the coffins of the five IAF personnel at Hindon air base near the national capital. The five were killed near Gaurikund June 25.

IAF personnel reversed their arms to pay respect to their departed colleagues.

The air warriors were part of the crew of an MI-17 V5 helicopter that crashed with 20 personnel on board. Those killed included personnel from the IAF, the ITBP and the National Disaster Response Force.

The coffins of Wing Commander Darryl Castelino, Flight Lieutanant K. Praveen, Flight Lieutanant Tapan Kapoor, Junior Warrant Officer AK Singh and Sergeant Sudhakar Yadav were draped in the tricolour.

They were brought in an IAF C-130J Hercules military transport aircraft to Hindon from Uttarakhand and will be flown to their respective home towns for last rites.

Meanwhile, over 100 pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh are still missing in flood-hit areas of Uttarakhand, officials said in Hyderabad Friday.

Officials of the disaster management department said out of 2,785 pilgrims who went to the hill state, 1,879 returned safely while another 778 have informed their families that they are safe. Thirteen pilgrims have died.

IANS