Rescuers fight against time to save 22,000 people

With heavy rains likely to hit flood-ravaged Uttarakhand again, army and paramilitary force teams raced against time to rescue stranded people and provide them succour as officials yesterday put the death toll at 557 and said 20,000 people were still stuck.

A rescue operation in Uttarakhand. Pic/AFP

Army chief General Bikram Singh said the army was rushing its personnel with logistics, medical cover and rations to extricate people stuck in flood-hit areas in the mountainous state keeping in mind bad weather predictions for Monday.

An Indian military personnel throw a rock with a rope attached across a river to help rescue pilgrims in Uttarakhand. AFP Photo/Ministery of Defence

 Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, giving an update of the situation in the hill state, said on Saturday about 10,000 people were evacuated by the army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police, including from critical areas.

Despite bad weather, the Indian Air Force carried out 150 helicopter sorties till last afternoon, said Tewari, adding that in all, 61 helicopters -- 43 of IAF, 11 of the army and seven private -- are engaged in the rescue and relief mission.

He also said there was “absolute and complete coordination” between various agencies active in relief operations. Tiwari put the death toll at 557, with 412 injured.

The army chief, speaking in Hyderabad, spoke of the urgency with which the relief operations were being carried out.

Fight against time
“The time is limited. We have got a window till tomorrow (Sunday) as the weather might get bad again. We are rushing our people. Yesterday (Friday) we landed paratroopers. We are trying to reach even those areas where there is nobody at the moment to ensure that in case anybody is stuck we are able to get them off from there. We have increased the army's footprint from 500 to over 6,000 at the moment,” the army chief said.

A new ropeway has been installed at Lambagar, about 10 km from Badrinath, to rescue people. Indo-Tibetan Border Police spokesman Deepak K Pandey said stranded people were being brought to Govindghat and then taken to Joshimath through bus and other vehicles. In Joshimath, names of rescued people are being noted before sending them for onward journey to Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh.

He said women, children and elderly were being sent through helicopters while the youth and able-bodied were being helped out through ropeway. “About 400 persons have been rescued through ropeway since Friday,” Pandey said.

One day’s salary
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) announced it will contribute one day’s salary of its personnel to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund for the victims of Uttarakhand tragedy. CRPF Director General Pranay Sahay said, “The CRPF commiserates with the victims of the tragedy that has struck Uttarakhand. There has been large-scale destruction of property and loss of lives in this disaster. The victims are our own brethren. The officers and men have decided to donate one day’s salary to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. The amount will be over Rs 18 crore.”

Three die in Canada flood
Meanwhile, three people were killed by floodwaters that devastated much of southern Alberta, leading authorities to evacuate the western Canadian city of Calgary’s entire downtown. Some 75,000 people were evacuated .  “It is unlikely that people will be able to return home before the middle of next week,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. 

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