Rescue operations by air and road in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand were hampered by fresh rains today with around 1,000 of the remaining 10,000 stranded people being evacuated and are likely to be stalled for three days with heavy rains being forecast.
As fresh rains, landslides and cloudburst posed a challenge to multi-agency operations, only 164 out of a total of 5,000 pilgrims stuck in the high-altitude temple town of Badrinath could be evacuated to Joshimath in the few small six-seat aircraft that could make limited sorties.
However, the rain-marred rescue efforts saw a total of a little around 1,000 pilgrims being evacuated from different areas including the Himalayan shrine in Chamoli district and the Gangotri valley, Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar told reporters in Dehradun.
Apart from 164 evacuated from Badrinath, 830 were evacuated from Harshil, Maneri and Bhatwari in Uttarkashi district to Dharasu, he said.
The bad weather grounded most of the big military choppers from bringing people to safety while small helicopters managed to evacuate only 164 from Badrinath, 11 from Pandukeshwar and 18 from Lambagar in Chamoli district.
Reports from Chamoli and Pauri districts said it was raining in the higher reaches hampering chopper operations.
The state capital Dehradun was also drenched with rain.
Fresh landslips in Rudraprayag and on Badrinath highway also choked the route.
Besides rains and landslides, a cloudburst was reported in Mulan village in Paithani kasba in Pauri following incessant rains. Many houses collapsed but casualties, if any, were not immediately known.
"Not even a single chopper could be flown in the morning from Sahasradhara helipad in Dehradun. However, when the weather improved in the afternoon a couple of sorties were made by private choppers which ferried about 17 pilgrims from Gauchar," Wing Commander(Retd) Capt R S Brar, who has been entrusted with the task of overseeing air rescue operations, told PTI.
The ITBP said it may take another three days to resume the evacuation process.
Most of the people from Kedarnath area have been rescued while there are a few held up at Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, who are being "slowly evacuated", Director General of Indian Tibetan Border Police Ajay Chadha said in New Delhi.
"We can resume the rescue operations once air sorties can be conducted," he told reporters, adding that the weather was expected to improve by June 28.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) in its forecast update this afternoon said, "Heavy to very heavy rainfall, of upto 25 cm, would occur at one or two places over Uttarakhand during the next 72 hours.
The plans to start ritual cremation of bodies strewn over the devastated remains of Kedarnatah shrine also could not be taken up today due to intermittent showers in the area, Kumar said.
When asked about the death toll in the calamity, the official did not mention any figure saying it is the same as earlier.
The toll officially is 680 so far with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna saying it will easily cross the one thousand mark once tonnes of debris lying in affected areas is cleared.
In Delhi, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the death toll may cross the 1,000 mark after the debris are cleared.
Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya said yesterday that at least 5,000 people must have been killed in the flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rain on June 16.
ITBP has deployed its Netra Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) in service for search and rescue operations by scanning the terrain in the remote areas of Kedarnath, Bhairav Chotti and Jungle Chotti. There are personnel on the ground to search for any survivor, Chadha said.
"We have ordered two more Netra UAVs from the manufacturers and expect to deploy them once the weather is clear," he added.
The villages in Kedarnath area are completely lost after the landslides, he said.
Road connectivity has been restored in Pithoragarh.
The ITBP team has repaired the route from Badrinath to Hanuman Chatti which is being used for foot rescue operations.
"There are two NDRF battalions aiding the para commandos of the Army in Harsil, where a few of the survivors are being housed. They will flown out once the weather improves," the ITBP chief said.
He also said efforts are on to rescue some people left stranded in Bhairon Chatti, where NDRF team is setting up a helipad. The moment it is ready and clouds clear, air rescue will start, he added.