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5,000 feared dead in floods; Church rushes aid

More rains are predicted this week, which officials said might hamper rescue works.

 
Army engineers looking to restore a fallen bridge over the Ganges in spate: Reuters

Church agencies are preparing to rush aids to the mountainous Uttarakhand area where at least 5,000 people are feared dead and 10,000 remain stranded as of Sunday evening after flash floods and rain lashed the area early last week.

At least 5,000 may have been killed in the floods, a state minister said on Sunday, as rescuers evacuated by road and air some 12,000 people. An estmated 10,000 people still remained to be taken to safety, reports said.

Caritas India, the social service wing of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, has already posted a team to evaluate the nature of aids needed in the area, where villagers and roads have been washed off.

Kedarnath Valley, the temple town which was the epicenter of the floods and landslides, was cleared of all stranded pilgrims in stepped-up rescue operations that led to evacuation of 12,000 pilgrims and tourists, Press Trust of India reported.

"At present, while the government remains majorly focused in rescue of pilgrims from Kedarnath and else, the Caritas India's role will be to meet the demands and needs of local people and families in various small pockets affected by the disaster," said Caritas spokesperson Amrit Sangma.

In general, entire property including building and houses have been buried at least 10 feet below silt and mud, leaving no house or only the terrace in some cases for the locals, he said.

Caritas India has been assisting mostly pilgrims in Joshimath area providing them breakfast, lunch, tea snacks to over 700 people, Sangma said.

With MeT department warning of adverse weather in the region from Monday, the multi-agency operations involving Army, IAF, ITBP and NDRF among others raced against time to try to rescue the remaining 10,000 stranded people stuck in three areas including Badrinath. Air operations had to be also briefly suspended due to bad weather.

“At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge that inflicted heavy damage on vast tracts of land especially in Kedarnath valley,” Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya told reporters at Jolly Grant airport on his return from an aerial survey of affected areas.

The official death toll as of yesterday was put at 680 while Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the death toll is likely to be around 1,000.

However, Arya did not give a specific figure, saying that recovery of bodies from under tonnes of debris in affected areas, which is yet to be taken up, may take some time.

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

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 S S Guleria said the UAV will operate on Monday 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.

Kedarnath valley has been totally evacuated, while over 3,000 people stranded in Badrinath, Junglechatti and Harshil areas were evacuated to safe locations by the security forces, officials said. Scores of dead bodies also lay strewn in Kedarnath temple area presenting a gory picture.

“Rains on Tuesday are our main worry…if we get three to four hours of window tomorrow, we can do well,” Air Marshal S B Deo, DG, Air Operations told reporters in Delhi.

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