Uttarakhand: Rescue gathers steam, but 50,000 pilgrims still stranded

UttarakhandIndian Air Force personnel unloading relief material from a chopper during their flood relief operations at Guptakashi near Kedarnath. (PTI photo)

The ground floors of more than 100 buildings seem to have disappeared. So has the basketball court, with only the top of the hoop mounted on the backboard visible.

Motorcycles and cars are buried under silt and debris. Troops search for remnants of boundary walls to erect fences correctly.

Three days after torrential rain, cloudbursts and flooding ravaged the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, this hill town by the Alaknanda is still trying to come to terms with the unprecedented devastation.

Rescue and relief operations were stepped up on a massive scale across the region Thursday as multiple agencies evacuated the worst-affected pilgrimage centre of Kedarnath and other areas. The death toll was feared to be in several hundreds.

An estimated 50,000 pilgrims were believed to be stranded at various places and there were reports of them running out of food and water. The government pressed nearly 50 military helicopters and more than 2,500 additional soldiers and elite para troopers on Thursday into rescue operations.

Officials said even rescue teams have been hit by food and fuel shortages that threaten to hamper operations.

The official death toll stood at 150 but Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the number could run into several hundreds, and would be known only after areas become accessible and the water recedes.

Although there are no reports of anyone being killed in Srinagar, which is on the Rishikesh-Badrinath highway, residents are homeless as many parts of the town are under

12 feet of silt brought in by the river.

"The biggest problem is that we can't remove the debris from our houses. The river has deposited 12-feet of silt and debris in an area of more than 7 kilometres. Everything is buried under the silt," Hriday Kotnala told The Indian Express.

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