Thousands missing in Uttarakhand flood fury, death toll could mount (Roundup)

Dehradun/New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) Thousands are said to be missing in Uttarakhand after unprecedented rains and cloudburst led to landslides and flash floods killing more than 100 people and leaving 62,000 stranded, officials and survivors said.

Such was the magnitude of the disaster that a worried Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told IANS: “It is a calamity that has numbed me by its sheer magnitude.”

Bahuguna said that more than 18 km of the mountainous trek to Kedarnath, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, had been ripped apart and it would not be possible for pilgrims to go there for at least a year.

The full impact of nature’s fury was visible as days of blinding rains — 380 mm, some 450 percent more than usual — abated and the skies cleared Wednesday, allowing the army and paramilitary forces to rescue thousands of pilgrims and tourists in the devastated temple town of Kedarnath.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi saw from helicopters the extent of damage and destruction. The prime minister granted Rs.1,000 crore for disaster relief in the state and said the death toll could be higher than the official estimate of 102.

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 in Uttarakhand.

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

Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi voiced distress over the nature’s fury.

The prime minister said more than 10,000 people have been rescued. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said over 62,000 pilgrims were still stranded.

Home Secretary R.K. Singh visited Dehradun, the state capital, to study the situation. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the National Disaster Response Force, the army and air force joined the rescue efforts, using ropes to rescue those stranded in precarious cliffs.

The turbulent Mandakini river swallowed huge swathes of land near Kedarnath. Officials said all the 250 plus government and private hotels and lodges and 100 shops around the temple have been flattened.

Survivors returning from there told IANS that they saw bodies on roadsides. Entire stretches of mountain roads disappeared in landslides, rendering rescue work difficult.

“We saw houses and hotels collapse like they were made of cardboard,” recounted a survivor in Haridwar.

In Himachal Pradesh, also hit by heavy rains and cloudburst, over 1,100 tourists were still stranded in Sangla Valley and Pooh. Around 70 tourists were rescued.

In the national capital, the water level in the Yamuna was near the 207.7 metre danger level, the highest since 1978, an official said. One man died while bathing in the Yamuna in north Delhi.

“The water level of the Yamuna would reach 207.7 metres, and this is the highest ever recorded since 1978,” Dharmpal, secretary of the Revenue and Disaster Management Department, told IANS.

As the Yamuna swelled, around 2,000 families living on its banks were evacuated.

Authorities closed the landmark double-decker rail-cum-road bridge, built in 1868 and connecting the capital to its eastern part for vehicular traffic.

In Haryana, the Yamuna flowed above the danger mark and entered villages in Yamunanagar and Karnal districts. In Palwal, nearly 350 families were shifted from two villages.

In contrast, there was an unusual heat wave in northeast India.

Sunstroke claimed three lives in Tripura, taking the number of deaths due to excessive exposure to sun and heat to six in the state in one week.

The unusual heat wave was prevalent across the northeastern region.

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