As the mammoth rescue operations in the Uttarakhand disaster neared completion, concerns grew over the fate of 3,000 people who were reported missing. Amid fears of epidemic outbreak, the focus shifted to retrieving bodies buried in debris and expediting mass cremation of more victims in Kedarnath town, which bore the brunt of destruction from floods and landslides after heavy rains pounded the hill state nearly a fortnight back. A total of 1,04,095 people have been evacuated so far, according to NDMA Vice Chairman M Shashidhar Reddy. With the Army, IAF, ITBP and NDMA fine-tuning strategies to bring the rescue mission to an end, Lt Gen Anil Chait, General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC-in-C), Central Command expressed confidence that "Operation Surya Hope" could be wrapped up in the next few days. Reddy, on his part, hoped that the rescue operation would be completed by Friday while Subash Kumar said the rescue operations will have to be stepped up. At a news conference in Dehradun, Kumar said about 3,000 pilgrims are still missing.
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.
The Centre, meanwhile, said no outbreak of any water, food or air-borne disease has been reported from the flood-affected areas of Uttarakhand. A three-member high-level committee from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is in Dehradun to review the public health situations with state health authorities. The team had left on Wednesday. "No outbreak of water borne/food borne/air borne or direct contact diseases has been reported from affected areas," said a Health Ministry statement. Relief material was also being flown in a fleet of more than 40 choppers to distribute them among residents of villages from where shortage of food grain has been reported, officials said. There have been reports of people facing shortage of food grain, electricity and water in affected villages causing anxiety to authorities which are not yet through with the process of evacuating stranded pilgrims.
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