Thirteen days after the Uttarakhand disaster, Rescue workers were today near the end of their mammoth mission with Harsil sector totally evacuated and they made a final push in Badrinath where around 1,400 people were still stranded.
With 3,000 people still reported missing in the floods and landslides after heavy rains pounded the hill state on June 15, visiting Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh sent a word of comfort that his troops and IAF personnel will continue their operations till the last person is evacuated.
"Our endeavour is to locate all our citizens, wherever they are, and get them out," Gen Singh told reporters in Gauchar after his interaction with his officers and men.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who was on a second visit to Dehradun since the disaster struck the state, said all out efforts will be made in the multi-agency operations to locate those who are still trapped in the debris and the missing.
"The Air Force will deploy more MI-17 helicopters to evacuate all people in war footing. The helicopters fleet will be stationed in Uttarakhand for 15 more days," he told reporters.
S Sasidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), said so far 1,04,095 people have been rescued. "But 1,400 people in Badrinath are yet to be rescued," he told reporters in Delhi.
During a hearing on a PIL in the Supreme Court, the Uttarakhand government said rescue operations will be over by tomorrow.
It said about 1,000 pilgrims are waiting to be evacuated in the pilgrim town of Badrinath but they were in a safe condition and there is no shortage of water and food materials.
Mass cremation of bodies in Kedarnath, the worst-affected in the flood fury, is also on, as authorities are racing against time to minimise risks of epidemic outbreak.
With a large number of people still missing, and their bodies feared trapped under layers of debris and slush in the flood-hit state, the focus now will be on finding them, according to Shinde.
He said priority would be given to evacuate the sick, old and disabled people, along with women, a large number of whom are stranded in the Badrinath area.
State government officials said that with the weather improving, 17 helicopters took off to rescue an estimated 1,237 people stuck at different places in the hill state, with the Harshil sector totally cleared of pilgrims. About 3,000 people are still reported missing, they said.
The focus now is on Badrinath Dham area, where majority of the pilgrims are now stranded, they said.
Authorities faced anxious moments when a Pawan Hans helicopter, engaged in rescue operations made an emergency landing at Harsil, two days after an IAF Mi17 rescue chopper crashed killing all its 20 occupants.
No casualties were reported in the incident.
"The aircraft landed heavily at Harsil helipad and was damaged in the process," Wing Commander (Rtd) R S Brar told PTI.
However, everyone on board the aircraft is safe, he said.
On June 21, a private helicopter that was being used for rescue operations had crashed. The pilot, though, was rescued.
A clear picture also emerged today on the extent of devastation in the hill state.
"Out of the total 22,000 villages in the state, 2,375 have been affected," Reddy said.
"Out of them, 1,636 have been connected so far while the rest 739 are yet to be connected," he added.
Gen Singh, who is on a day-long visit to affected areas, said he had asked his commanders to launch relief operations in "very, very difficult conditions" in a proactive manner, without waiting for any requisition from authorities.
"We are getting information that there may still be some survivors in certain areas. Like I am told, yesterday we had an input that in north of Badrinath there were some people, 40 of them.
We had launched sorties yesterday but couldn't detect them. We will be doing it again, if the weather permits" he added.