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Sunday, June 23, 2013

All pilgrims from Kedarnath rescued, but toll could rise

Focus Now On Badrinath And Harsil

Badrinath/Dehradun/ New Delhi: Amid the first official confirmation that more than 5,000 people perished in the Uttarakhand catastrophe, massive efforts to save thousands of pilgrims stranded in Kedarnath and Badrinath achieved a big breakthrough with rescue teams scooping out nearly 12,000 survivors against the looming threat of rains, disease and starvation.
    Of those who were brought to safety, 7,000 were trapped in the Kedarnath and Gaurikund areas: the stretch that bore the brunt of the catastrophe.
    However, the fate of abo
ut 2,000 pilgrims caught up in Harsil near Uttarkashi remains vulnerable, and will see a concerted action from the rescue teams.
    Although 10,000 people are still to be taken out from Badrinath, Harsil and Jungle Chatti, it was those marooned in Kedarnath and Gaurikund who had looked really precarious. Weak from days of starvation and facing the real risk of an epidemic in an area littered with rotting bodies, the hapless lot had looked particularly vulnerable against the threat of hostile weather.
Hope floats, but weather a worry
    The cloudburst had wreaked havoc in the area and smashed infrastructure; leaving the survivors without any shelter. The situation of those stuck in Badrinath is relatively better. In short, the task of saving thousands of lives which appeared hopeless on Saturday evening with the clock ticking away did not seem insurmountable on
Sunday. "The focus of the operation on Monday will be Harsil where
around 2,000 pilgrims are stranded in vulnerable
conditions," an official said. However, the weather continues to be a worry. "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 here.
    However, with Kedarnath and Gaurikund region, the epicenter of the destruction, virtually cleared of pilgrims, authorities can focus on those who remain in Badrinath and Harsil. The local police reached Kedarnath and Gaurikund on Sunday and have started the process of identification of bodies.

    The 5,000 pilgrims who remain in Badrinath have been put up in different hotels, as Army and ITBP personnel try to step up their operations to get them out of the area. Around 100 people remain in Gaurikund.
    The achievement of the Army, IAF, ITBP and NDRF will help contain the toll from the calamity which Uttarakhand's disaster management minister Yashpal Arya put at "at

least 5,000". "At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge," Arya told reporters at Jolly Grant airport in the state capital.
    This was five-fold jump from the 1,000 deaths confirmed by chief minister Vijay Bahuguna. This was also a grim validation of the widely held estimate that, with thousands still unaccounted for amid reports of dozens of villages been swept away, the casualty could reach frightening proportions.


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