Uttarakhand: Rain and landslides hit rescue operations, thousands still stranded

New Delhi:  At mid-day on Monday, the Met department upgraded its weather warning for Uttarakhand from "severe" rain to "very severe" rain in the next three days. Nearly 15,000 people remain stranded today, with rain and new landslides impeding rescue operations. Helicopters have been unable to fly today to many parts of the state. But the Indian Air Force has managed some sorties and has rescued 430 people.
Here are the latest developments in the story:
  1. 5,000 pilgrims are stranded in and around the holy town of Badrinath; not a single helicopter has been able to take off so far to help them.
  2. Rudraprayag has been lashed by heavy rain. The Army has set up a major base camp in Gauchar, which is 30 km from Rudraprayag. People are being brought here by foot. Overnight landslides have meant that a major route near Rudraprayag, key for evacuations, has been blocked.
  3. More than 500 people are stuck at Gaurikund, but efforts to bring them to safety had to be aborted following heavy rains in the region. It has also been raining at Guptkashi and Harsil, where hundreds await help.
  4. The Air Force says air rescue efforts are underway wherever possible. It said it wants this message sent to those stranded and their families, "Our helicopter rotors will not stop churning till such time as we get each one of you out. Hang in there, don't lose hope."
  5. 670 people are reported dead so far. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters in Delhi today that the death toll may cross the 1,000 mark after the debris is cleared. Officials warn many more bodies are yet to be pulled out from isolated areas that are completely cut-off.
  6. Preparations are underway for a mass cremation in the flood-ravaged holy town of Kedarnath amid concerns of an outbreak of disease from rotting bodies. Large amounts of ghee and wood are to be ferried by helicopter when the weather improves. The cremations will be held over the next few days and priests have been requested to participate in final rites. 
  7. A police official who is in charge of organising the mass cremation said that belongings and documents recovered from bodies will be catalogued to help identify them; DNA samples will also be collected.
  8. The Met Department has forecast heavy rain over the next four days, but says there will be pockets of clear weather when helicopter rescue sorties can be made.
  9. 80,000 people have been evacuated since torrential hit on June 15 in peak tourist season centred on a pilgrimage to four shrines in Uttarkhand.
  10. Soldiers along with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have been using harnesses and erecting rope bridges across flooded rivers as part of efforts to move people to safety.

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