No more survivors have been found and defence and paramilitary personnel are now wrapping up their mission. "No survivors remain in the jungles around Kedarnath.
They have all been brought out," Ravinath Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Rudraprayag district said in Guptkashi yesterday. In Son Prayag, 25-km from Guptakashi, there were only a handful of NDRF personnel present in the morning.
The rest had all returned to Guptkashi by yesterday evening. "Our teams were also in Rambada, Gaurikund and Kedarnath, but they would have returned by nightfall," said an NDRF official. "Army and paramilitary personnel have minutely combed the jungles in this area.
There are no more people trapped here. The survivors have all been moved," he added. Son Prayag is a landscape of rock and boulders now, with only a strip of water flowing through. The entire river bed at the confluence of the Son and Mandakini, where once houses, hotels and shops stood, is now a rocky expanse.
Some NDRF personnel had their faces covered with masks; every fresh breeze carried the smell of decomposing corpses. "The bodies cannot be removed. They are far too decomposed for that. We will have to cremate them where they are found," Raman had told reporters yesterday.
"But the rain will make that difficult. The forecast is for heavy weather in the coming few days," he said. The toll he said was 1,000 as of Monday, on the basis of bodies found. The rest are being taken as missing. In Delhi, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that the body count may be much higher.
Rescue operations had been intensified in view of warnings of rain in the area from Monday onwards. Although there was a heavy shower in the morning, causing another roadblock on the route to Son Prayag, it was hurriedly cleared to allow operations to continue in full swing. The haste was evident.
The coordination committee being run in Guptkashi by locals kept pleading with returning pilgrims as well as the kin of missing persons to move on quickly. The rains will make matters difficult, they announced over loudspeakers.
Another NDRF official said, work that remains is for the bodies to be sprayed with disinfectants. As of the missing persons, he said, there was little hope. "It is now more than a week since the cloudburst. Chances of survival are very low for those who have not been brought out by rescue personnel or given shelter by locals. Without food and water it would be very tough.
"Also, even a single night in these jungles without any warm clothing and shelter can prove fatal. Remember many of them are aged, some would have already taken ill after the cloudburst. In such circumstances, holding on becomes difficult," he said. Many would have perished in the first moments of the cloudburst which, he explained, was like an entire column of water descending from the skies with great force and crashing into the mountains. It would have loosened rocks and boulders and carried these along the surge, swelling every moment.
"Think of a polythene bag filled with water. If you made several tiny holes in it, like in a sieve, water would fall slowly through them, much like rainfall. "Now think, if the same plastic bag were to burst, what would happen to the water? It would all come down in one great mass. It can be a terrible destructive force," he added.
The driver of a tourist jeep, who had returned to Son Prayag to fetch his vehicle which he had left behind when he was evacuated on June 19, said the road onwards from Son Prayag was damaged. "The entire slope, through which that road had been carved, has been washed away. Repairing the link will be a huge challenge; they will have to maybe, open another route," he said.