By Mohit Dubey
Dehradun: Those who survived the cloudburst and flood that ravaged Uttarakhand are limping back home with harrowing tales of spending four days without food and water, being forced to pay Rs.200 for a Rs.5 biscuit packet, and of a former Bihar minister who slept on a “layer of dead bodies”.
The hundreds and thousands returning to safety from the rain ravaged Kedar Valley and other parts of devastated Uttarakhand have stories to narrate of human insensitivity, as some locals are fleecing the trapped pilgrims and tourists in the wake of shortages of food supply, shelter, medicines and drinking water.
The rescued say those still trapped in far-flung areas are being sold water bottles at Rs.100 apiece and a biscuit packet that normally costs Rs.5 for Rs.200.
And there is nothing we can do, said Nutan Shukla, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly who claims to have paid Rs.5,000 for one-time meal for herself and her group of five.
Jaipal, a resident of Kaithal in Haryana, said that he was caught in a landslide on way back from Gangotri and had to spend four days without food and water.
“We were locked in the bus…I guess the deaths are much higher than what is being claimed,” he said minutes after landing at the Jolly Grant airport in Dehradun.
Former Bihar minister Ashvani Kumar Chaubey, who was trapped in Kedarnath with his entourage of family members and security men, told reporters on returning to Dehradun that he has never seen anything like this.
He said he slept on a “layer of dead bodies” and saw many protect their dead and refuse to leave the area without taking them. Some, he added, however, cremated their loved ones and proceeded to safety.
The magnitude of the misery caused by weekend torrential rains and flash floods is now becoming clear, with some officials fearing that the toll may be frighteningly high.
Neha Mishra, resident of Yamuna Vihar in New Delhi, who lost her mother, grandmother and another relative in the tragedy at Kedarnath, said she was “saddened at the apathy and greed of the locals who are trying the best to make most of the tragedy”.
Gujarat’s Ramesh Solanki said he was amazed to see how locals were fleecing them for essential items like food even as they waited for the army helicopters to come and take them to safety.
Nand Kishore from Rajasthan said he would not return to “this part of the world ever again”.
“What I have seen in the last four-five days will never be forgotten. I am thankful to God that I am alive but I will never come back here,” he said.
Eyewitness accounts said more than two dozen people died on the way to Kedarnath due to cold, fatigue and hunger.
Army soldiers involved in the rescue operations briefed R. Meenakshi Sundaram, the state government official deputed to oversee the rescue.
Sundaram, who spent Thursday doing aerial surveys of the disaster struck areas, admitted that bodies were strewn all over the area and that the toll could be much higher.
The authorities also admitted that while many people are alive in the thickets between Soneprayag and Kedarnath, Jangal Chatti, Rambada, Garunchatti and Dhinurpaani, the fact that they are going without food and water could raise the number of deaths.
Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna observed the fact that over 500 roads have been damaged and 200 bridges washed away makes the problem of rescue even bigger.
“Now rescue is solely by choppers, both of the air force and the 20 private choppers that we have hired. But they too have their limits,” pointed out the chief minister who said with the relief camps and ‘rain basera’ full, the biggest challenge now is to take people from here to plains where there is normalcy.
A senior official said that they are now worried about the prospects of more rain coming to Uttarakhand in the next few days.
The Met department has forecast inclement weather and more rains in the region from June 23.
This, officials fear, would not only jeopardize the rescue operations but would also snap the last ray of hope for thousands still stranded.
Officials say more than 51,000 people are still stranded at various places while over 24,000 have been rescued to safety.