Dehradun: At least 5,000 people may have been killed in the Uttarakhand deluge, a state minister said on Sunday, as rescuers evacuated by road and air 12,000 more stranded people while 10,000 survivors still remained to be taken to safety.
Kedarnath Valley, the temple town which was the epicenter of the floods and landslides, was also cleared of all stranded pilgrims in stepped up rescue operations amid intermittent rains which led to evacuation of 12,000 pilgrims and tourists.
With MeT department warning of adverse weather in the region from Monday, the multi-agency operations involving the Army, Air Force, the border police and National Disaster Response Force among others raced against time to try to rescue remaining 10,000 stranded people stuck in three areas including Badrinath. Air operations had to be also briefly suspended due to bad weather.
"At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge that inflicted heavy damage on vast tracts of land especially in Kedarnath valley," Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya told reporters at Jolly Grant airport on his return from an aerial survey of affected areas. The official death toll on Sunday was put at 680 while Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the death toll is likely to be around 1,000.
However, Mr Arya did not give a specific figure saying extrication of bodies from under tonnes of debris in affected areas which is yet to be taken up may take some time.
So far, over 80,000 people have been evacuated, including 12,000 today, to safer areas in the rain-ravaged state with some 10,000 people still stranded in various places, DG, Press Information Bureau Neelam Kapur said in Delhi.
A Defence Ministry release said 45 choppers airlifted more than 3,200 people in 250 sorties in the IAF operations.
The NDRF also deployed its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) 'Netra' to help locate survivors in various areas. NDRF DIG SS Guleria said the UAV will operate tomorrow as well to ensure all survivors are located and eventually evacuated.
Rope bridges and foot tracks were also being built and new routes opened to speed up the mammoth evacuation work, offering a "silver lining" for the stranded people.
Kedarnath valley has been totally evacuated while over 3,000 stuck in Badrinath, Junglechatti and Harshil areas were evacuated to safe locations by the security forces today, officials said. Scores of dead bodies also lay strewn in Kedarnath temple area.
"Rains on Tuesday are our main worry...if we get three to four hours of window tomorrow, we can do well," Air Marshal S B Deo, DG, Air Operations told reporters in Delhi.