The death toll would be in tens of thousands. Horror stories keep flooding in. The Dev Bhoomi, where pilgrims pray for moksh, is a mass graveyard after flash floods erupted in Uttarakhand on Sunday. Injured survivors wait to be spotted as the Indian Army rescue mission covering over 40,000 sq km — the largest in history — continues. Dogs and vultures feast on the dead in Rudraprayag. They do not leave the wounded and alive either. Human predators abound: armed men loot survivors.
Krishna Semwal does not know what happened to 10 members of his family. “The locals have seen injured pilgrims limping and losing their way in the hills. They are dehydrated and dogs and vultures are attacking them. Among my missing family members is my 17-year-old cousin. When the floods came, my uncle held his hand tightly. But the waters snatched him from the grip,” said Semwal, who comes from Guptkashi.
He asked the local administration to use his help. “We usually spend six months in Kedarnath and can help identify bodies. We can tell a local from a pilgrim. We know the routes and paths. But they are not letting us go beyond Phata. I fear they are hiding something disastrous.” Food packets were dropped for around 1,000 pilgrims in Garurchatti; yet 1,000 at Bhairon Mandir, which is 2.5-km from Kedarnath Mandir, wait for deliverance.
Kedar Ghati and the entire Rudraprayag region has turned into a ghoulish bed of corpses. On Monday morning, when the water of Gandhi Sarovar came gushing down after a cloud burst, many pilgrims were washed away. Others who saw the disaster unfolding in seconds ran up to higher areas.
As water and death followed minute-by-minute, they climbed higher and eventually lost their way in the stretches around Rambara, Gaurikund, Guptkashi, Kalimath, Ukhimath, Chandrapuri and other areas.
When the deluge stopped, they found themselves stranded amidst huge stretches of bare pastures. While the number of marooned pilgrims on Tuesday was estimated to be 14,000-20,000 in Rudraprayg, Kedarnath alone, sources say at least 6,000 to 7,000 are dead, buried in mud and slush or have starved to death.
A survivor from Kedarnath asks, “Why were satellite phones not given to survivors in Rudraprayag? These could have helped ITBP jawans and Army helicopters trace us. It could help us tell our loved ones we are safe. I believe that the government thought that if we die after informing dear ones, the authorities would be in trouble.”
He added that survivors are pushing the stinking, decaying corpses into the swelling waters to avoid an epidemic. “We soaked pieces of cloth with rainwater which we drank to avoid dehydration. We had nothing to eat. I met a few survivors from Garuchatti where around a 1,000 pilgrims were stranded, rescue was slow and painful. Few others who were saved from Bhairon Mandir could barely talk or even cry.”