Scale of disaster unfolds as rescue work intensifies

Survivors say hundreds stranded in Kedar valley will starve to death if rescue teams do not reach them soon. Next 48 hours crucial

By Soma Basu
Published: Thursday 20 June 2013

The scale of the disaster in Uttarakhand is slowly beginning to unfold even as rescue operations were intensified by the Indian Army and other government agencies. 

People who had been rescued from the pilgrim centres in the upper reaches and returned to Rudraprayag, said Chamoli district, where pilgrimage centres Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib are located, and Kedarnath in Rudraprayag have been devastated. Manju and her husband Umesh Rawat, residents of Dehradun who were at Gaurikund (on way to Kedarnth) when the disaster hit, were rescued by the army and were dropped part of the way to Rudraprayag by truck. They said that people stranded on route to Kedarnath were going hungry. They said the food packets dropped by army helicopters had fallen into the river and did not reach people. The choppers could not be brought nearer because of  narrow passages and rocky outcrops in the valley, said Anupam Dwivedi, district information officer at Rudraprayag. The Rawats said that many people were surviving by eating grass.


The state government has, meanwhile, released a list of the worst-hit districts in the state. These are Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Tehri, Udham Singh Nagar, Champawat, Haridwar, Bageshwar, Pithoragarh, Nainital, Almora and Dehradun.

The authorities have opened two relief camps at Gauchar, 20 km before Kedarnath, and at Dehradun. About 300 people were brought to these centres in critical condition. Officials said that it took the army three days to reach Kedar valley. They said the next 48 hours are crucial for rescue operations because the Met office has predicted rains from June 24 which could hamper relief and rescue work, and people would be left starving.

Attempts to restore road connectivity fail

The Indo Tibetan Border Police is also in the area trying to restore road connectivity by laying temporary bridges, but have not been successful so far; as many as 14 bridges were washed away on route to Kedarnath.

Officials said that 3,000 people have been rescued from Kedar valley along till now. There is no count of the people still stranded or buried there. The official toll who have died in the disaster following extreme rains, floods and landslides is still 130, but casualties are much higher. Some of the survivors told this correspondent that there were as many as 800 pilgrims staying in Kali Kamli dharamshala in Kedarnath which  which was brought down by the flash floods. No rescue team has reached the spot yet.

No co-ordination

There were also complaints of lack of co-ordination between the army and state agencies because of which there is no proper list of people who have been rescued. As a result inquiries from anxious relatives often draw a blank. Six battalions of the National Disaster Response Force have also been pressed into service, but only three could carry out rescue and relief operations while the other three were in Rudraprayag because of no-availability of choppers, district officials informed on condition of anonymity. 

Uttarakhand government is at present giving Rs 5,400 as general relief to people who have lost their homes in the disaster.

Residents in Rudraprayag, too, are chipping in to help survivors. For instance, the traders' organisation and chemists' association in Rudraprayag has extended free medical assistance to survivors. They complained that they had attempted to send relief material and medicines on one of the choppers' but were rebuffed saying that it was meant to take a state minister on aerial survey.           

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