Mass cremation of bodies of hundreds of people killed in floods and landslides in Uttarakhand was delayed on Tuesday (June 25) amid fears of disease outbreak, as heavy rains hampered rescue operations for the second day.
Rescuers battled rains to evacuate 1,000 more stranded people including from Badrinath but around 7,000 people including 4,000 in the pilgrim town of whom 1,500 were locals, were still waiting to be rescued 10 days after the deluge. The death toll rose to 822 with 142 bodies being found, including 127 in Kedarnath, the epicentre of destruction, officials said.
With rescue operations being disrupted by cloudbursts coupled with torrential rains, IAF flew lesser sorties and evacuated about 500 people including 120 from Badrinath. The 500 people earlier rescued from the Himalayan shrine were safely brought from the upper reaches to Joshemath by road, a distance of 44 km.
Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar told reporters in Dehradun that IAF choppers rescued 120 people from Badrinath and 327 from Hershil.
127 more bodies were recovered since Monday from the Kedarnath area. At least 15 corpses were found floating in the Ganga in different districts of Uttar Pradesh including Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr and Bijnore, taking the toll in the tragedy to 822, officials said.
The IAF, Army and Uttarakhand administration launched a massive operation to send logistics like firewood and fuel for conducting last rites of those killed in the worst-hit Kedarnath Valley.
Multiple agencies undertaking relief and rescue operations are increasingly getting worried about the imminent
spread of diseases and the rotting of bodies in the temple town area as the tragedy is ten days old now. Truck loads of dry Deodar wood and ghee have been despatched to Kedarnath and efforts were underway to conduct mass ritual cremation of bodies strewn over the premises after their identification, post mortem and DNA preservation formalities, a senior police official told PTI. With the bodies already beginning to putrefy, the air is laden with a foul stench giving rise to fears of an epidemic outbreak in affected areas.
State DGP Satyabrat Bansal said the DNA of unidentified bodies were being preserved and it is hoped that the weather clearns on Wednesday to facilitate the cremation.
There were also reports of fresh cloudburst in Devprayag and heavy downpour in Augustya Muni in Rudraprayag. With rain hampering rescue operations from Badrinath where the majority of pilgrims remain stranded, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna appealed to their relatives not to run out of patience, saying they are safe with enough supplies of food and and medicines made available to them.
In Patna, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said that he had asked the Uttarakhand government not to allow any VIP to land in the flood-ravaged areas to avoid any disturbance to relief work.
Foggy and overcast conditions in Dehradun had delayed take off by choppers at Sahasradhara helipad and Jolly Grant Airport but air rescue operations resumed with improvement in the weather. The IAF also landed its first big helicopter in the difficult Kedarnath area and dropped material needed for the mass funeral.
"No survivor remains in the jungles around Kedarnath. They have all been brought out," Ravinath Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Rudraprayag district, said in Guptkashi.
As rescue operations get stretched in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, the ITBP decided to send in a fresh contingent of its troops and bring out those tired and exhausted. The paramilitary force, according to sources, is replacing close to 45 men with an equal strength in the areas of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Harshil and Gaurikund.
In Himachal, about 100 people including tourists and sick persons were evacuated from Sangla, Hamgo, Rekong Peo and other places in the rain-ravaged tribal district of Kinnaur by state and IAF choppers.
60 people, including some sick persons were airlifted from Sangla Valley to Rampur while nine sick people were
evacuated from Hango. About a dozen people were airlifted from Rekong Peo.