Thousands missing in Kedarnath, death toll may zoom

Dehradun/Lucknow, June 19 (IANS) Thousands of people are missing following the devastating floods in Uttarakhand, officials said Wednesday, adding the death toll may run into frightening figures.

While the Uttarakhand government has confirmed the death of 110 people, officials privately concede that the number of fatalities may be much more than what is now known.

The dead include two policemen and three troopers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

One official involved in the evacuation and rescue work told IANS on telephone that they feared that thousands might have perished in the rains and flash floods that lashed the state since Friday.

“We are not sure of the number of people who have died in the rains but for sure the numbers are much higher as more than 15,000 people are reported missing,” a senior official said.

Uttarakhand Director General of Police Satyavrat conceded that two policemen and three ITBP troopers had perished and that an entire police outpost at Ram Bada had gone missing.

Moreover, whereabouts of a section of the Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) posted there was not known.

Survivors returning from the disaster hit areas told IANS that they had seen bodies on roadsides and in the temple compound of Kedarnath – a sacred destination for Shiva followers.

Kedarnath, one of four highly revered shrines in Uttarkhand, is located at a height of 3,581 metres above sea level in the Rudra Himalayan range. The over 1,000-year-old temple was said to be built by Adi Shankara.

Officials admit that all of the 250 plus government and private hotels and lodges and more than 100 shops around the temple have been flattened.

The district magistrate of Rudraprayag, V.K. Dhaudhiyal, said he feared that the death toll in Kedarnath could be much higher.

At any given time, officials said 700 to 1,000 people were always at Ram Bada, which is now a heap of debris.

With 380 mm of rainfall, 450 percent more than usual, battering the area, aerial surveys have confirmed the worst fears.

Official records point out that during the June 14-16 rain fury, more than 13,000 people were at Kedarnath.

And while officials confirm evacuation of more than 1,000 people, the fate of the remaining 12,000 remains uncertain.

Other than this, officials fear massive loss of livestock. More than 5,500 mules are registered on the 14-km walking stretch from the base camp to the shrine.

Police and other officials have no information on either the mules or the people they were carrying or of their runners.

Other than this, the whereabouts of more than 1,000 people employed at the Ram Bada market, several hundred government employees, over 100 priests in the Shiva shrine are also not known.

The extent of damage in and around Kedarnath can be gauged by the fact that even Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna admits it is “a calamity that has numbed him by its sheer magnitude”.

Bahuguna told IANS that more than 18 km of trek to the shrine has been ripped apart and it would not be possible for the pilgrimage to Kedarnath to resume before one year.

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