200 villages vanish from pilgrimage route
The scale of devastation left by the recent cloudburst and flash floods in Uttarakhand is massive and the final toll is expected to be in several thousands, as officials said they are yet to count the missing residents of about 200 villages that were destroyed when flashfloods submerged the Kedarnath-Rudraprayag region. About 50,000 people are still stranded in Rudraprayag and Chamoli.
Nearly a week after the disaster struck, the Centre finally woke up on Friday and appointed former home secretary V K Duggal as nodal officer for relief and rescue operations, saying lack of coordination among various agencies on the ground was hampering rescue operations.
On Friday, the official toll crossed 550. Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, who gave the updated toll, said late in the night, “As many as 556 bodies have been recovered and there were reports that more could be buried under the debris.”
“About 4,700 guides and their ponies, 1,000 palanquin bearers and at least 500 kandi operators are missing. There is no information on about 600-700 hotel and government employees, 1,000 shopkeepers and around 100 priests. Five government guesthouses run by the temple committee were also destroyed,” officials said, adding that there are 55 settlements in the Kedarnath Yatra route alone and there was no sign of houses or life on the ground while surveying the area from a helicopter. Flooded banks along the Alaknanda river were littered with cars and boulders while homes and hotels in Rudraprayag were razed and around 90 guesthouses in Rambara — 7 km from the Kedarnath temple — were swept away in the flood.
The Uttarakhand government on Friday evening forwarded a list of 985 people rescued from Kedar valley to the Centre. State officials said thousands of bodies are feared buried in about 8-foot high silt that has now covered the valley.
Rescue operation was paralysed in Kalimath, as roads linking it to Kedarnath were completely destroyed in the landslides and flashfloods. At least 150 shops and 50 private hotels at the bus depot on the way to Kedarnath lay in ruins.