The Indian Army has launched one of the biggest human rescue operations in Uttarakhand, mobilising troops for rescue and relief efforts. It has rescued over 34,000 people days after Uttarakhand was pounded by landslides and torrential rain hat left thousands of pilgrims, tourists and residents stranded in forests.
Between yesterday and today the Army simultaneously reached out to over 8,000 people across the Rishikesh-Uttarkashi-Harsil-Gangotri axis, Rudraprayag-Kedarnath axis, Joshimath-Badrinath axis and Dharchhula-Tawaghat axis in Pithoragarh district, in its largest-ever rescue and relief operation enven as 60,000 are still awaiting rescue.
Army personnel today opened road up to Uttarkashi after clearing 16 landslides. The road has also been opened up to Sonprayag on Kedarnath axis after successful launch of bridge across Vasuki Ganga between Mundkatiya and Sonprayag. 2,500 stranded people have been evacuated from Sonprayag due to this newly opened road, according to officilal reports.
The Kedarnath are is, however, totally cut off, especially the stretch between Gourikund and Sonprayag.
Troops skilled in mountain rescue operations, including paratroopers heli-dropped with specialised equipment to reach out and link up with people stranded in isolated areas along the Kedarnath-Badrinath axis.
The Army has so far rescued more than 11,000 people, mainly from Govindghat and Harsil. About 10,000 people are also being provided food and medical assistance.
On receiving information that 50 to 60 people were stranded and isolated on Pindari Glacier and 12 on Sunder Dunga Glacier in Kumaon region, an Army column led by two officers and 77 soldiers reached Kapkot in Bageshwar district this morning. The column is currently moving by foot towards Gumla and is expected to reach both the glaciers and is likely to link up with people today.
Army also established contact and rescued 11 members and 43 porters of a mountain expedition from Arva Tal on Gangotri-Mana axis. Expedition members have now been brought safely to Ghastoli and will be relocated to Badrinath after providing medical aid.
Communication nodes have been established at Gaucher, Harsil, Joshimath and Rudraprayag to enable people to contact their families. 30 satellite phones have so far been inducted, 20 more are likely to be inducted for use by stranded piligrims.
The Army is presently carrying out reconnaissance to examine the feasibility of making a larger helipad at Gagaria on Hemkund Sahib axis so that large number of people can be evacuated using MI-17 helicopter. Efforts are presently underway to repair the bridge over Alaknanda between Govindghat and Ghagria on Hemkund Sahib road.
Six Army columns are also currently deployed for rescue and relief operations in Pilibhit, Muzaffarnagar, Laksar and Amroha in Uttar Pradesh.
Two other columns have since returned from Saharanpur and Bijnor districts after evacuating 98 people and construction of anti flood bund. 114 people have been evacuated so far from Pilibhit district.
The death toll has mounted to 1,500 so far, but officials say it could rise dramatically as flood waters recede and rescue workers reach isolated areas. Some 14,000 people are reported missing, with no information on their whereabouts.
The Met department says it will start raining again on Monday, which will impede rescue operations. About 45 helicopters and soldiers are combing the state to find those stranded. NDTV footage shows people in mountain areas trying to walk to safer ground, aided by soldiers, using ropes to climb down cliffs.
In the worst-affected areas, soldiers are cutting down trees and clearing vegetation to allow military helicopters to land and evacuate those most in need, a state official said. "Thousands of tourists are waiting in the dense forests. They had all taken refuge in the jungle after hotels and other buildings collapsed," said the state's principal secretary Rakesh Sharma. "We are trying all possible ways to rescue them. Roads are totally destroyed," he said.
The focus of the rescue efforts today will be on Gaurikund, which serves as the base camp for those going to the 1000-year old Kedarnath temple. In a big breakthrough, the army has managed to re-open the stretch between Gaurikund and Sonprayag, the town below it. So people who were stuck near Gaurikund can now be moved down. The area near the temple, however, is accessible only by smaller helicopters, which are ferrying groups of eight people at a time to Dehradun, the state's capital.
Army field hospitals have been set up in several parts of the state.