SHIMLA: The rescue operation in Himachal's Lahaul Valley entered its final stages on Saturday as a large number of people, comprising largely tourists, were evacuated safely from the snow-marooned region.
The last batch of tourists stuck at various locations in the valley for over a week were brought to Keylong, district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti, and at Sarchu from where they were rescued by road on Saturday as the weather cleared, a government official told IANS over the phone from Kullu town.
Airlifting of tourists by the Indian Air Force (IAF) could not start on Saturday. It has been hampered since Friday afternoon owing to the onset of snowfall in the high hills, including Keylong, 122 km north of the picturesque Manali tourist resort.
Kullu Deputy Commissioner Yunus Khan told IANS nearly 500 people would be transported by road on Saturday from Keylong to Manali via the Rohtang tunnel.
Likewise, from Sarchu, some 222 km from Manali, the stranded people would be taken towards Leh in Jammu and Kashmir by road as the weather permits.
It has been one of the longest and largest rescue operations of its kind, the official said on the fifth day of rescue.
Over 2,000 persons, including 30 foreigners, have been rescued since September 24. Out of these, 211 were airlifted and the remaining evacuated by road via under-constructed Rohtang tunnel, officials said.
Khan said the rescue operation has been carried out in three formats.
First, the IAF is airlifting the tourists from vulnerable spots. Second, the BRO is rescuing the people by road. And third, the local administration is 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, he said.
Two light utility helicopters were additionally deployed along with three IAF choppers, including MI-17, to speed up the rescue in Lahaul.
Early snowfall in the higher reaches, cloudburst and heavy rain devastated large parts of the state from September 22 to 24.
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.