SHIMLA/MANALI: The five-day long air rescue operation in Himachal Pradesh's Lahaul Valley came to an end on Saturday with 252 people, comprising largely tourists, being evacuated safely from the snow-marooned region. Another 4,770 were rescued by road.
The rescued include foreigners from Germany, Norway, Denmark and Nepal, and a large number of Indian children and women.
"The air rescue operations have been called-off as per the direction of the government of India in the wake of fresh assessment of the situation," an official statement said.
State Tribal Development Minister Ram Lal Markanda told reporters that 80 per cent of the apple crop and 90 per cent electricity supply have been damaged with the recent snow, the heaviest since 1955 in the region. The electricity supply in the entire Lahaul-Spiti district is likely to be normalized in 10 days.
Airlifting of tourists by the Indian Air Force (IAF) was hampered on Friday afternoon owing to the onset of snowfall in the high hills, including Keylong, 122 km north of Manali.
Harjit Singh, a tourist from Chandigarh who was stranded with this family, told IANS: "We were stranded near Baralacha Pass for three days without food and water. Finally, a team of rescuers came to help us and others. They took us to a nearby army base camp from where the IAF airlifted us and gave us a new life."
Kullu Deputy Commissioner Yunus Khan told IANS that if there is need, rescue operation would be carried out in the next few days.
As per the assessment, all people have been either evacuated or moved to safer places. Some of the stranded people didn't prefer to leave the place without their vehicles so they have stayed back until the roads are motorable again, he said.
Khan said the rescue operation has been carried out in three formats.
First, the IAF was airlifting the tourists from vulnerable spots. Second, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was rescuing the people by road. And third, the local administration was providing logistic support to both the IAF and the BRO in rescuing people.
Work to clear snow from the Rohtang Pass and Baralacha Pass is in the final stage, Khan added.
Two light utility helicopters were additionally deployed along with three IAF choppers, including MI-17, to speed-up the rescue process in Lahaul.
Early snowfall in the higher reaches, cloudburst, and heavy rain devastated large parts of the state from September 22 to 24.
It has been one of the longest and largest rescue operations of its kind, an official said on the fifth day of the rescue.
Heavy snowfall on the Rohtang Pass, the Kunzum Pass, and the Baralacha Pass had cut-off the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys, affecting a large number of tourists and hampering water and electricity supply.