Phata: The 14 km stretch of National Highway 109 from Guptkashi to Phata was today badly damaged at two places due to landslips caused by heavy rain overnight.
The road, which goes up to Gauri Kund, is now available only till Son Prayag, the route onwards has been destroyed in the flash floods of 16 June.
Substantial damage to the road is a common occurrence during monsoons in the hills of Rudraprayag district, but this time the troubles for locals here started before the beginning of the wet season.
The cloudburst of 15-16 June, as they point out, was a pre-monsoon phenomenon and it brought along disaster of such magnitude as has been never witnessed before.
The importance of functional roads has now become of paramount importance to the efforts by civil society and government to reach out to stricken villages.
"Just make sure these roads are working. In past years, we would be fully prepared to deal with blocked roads. We used to stock up on adequate rations which ensured that even if the highway was clogged for more than a day or two, there was no problem of food.
"But this year we have nothing. Not only the NH, even village trails are washed away. People have to lug upto 15 kilos in supplies on their backs for 20-25 km to reach their villages," a Phata resident, YP Tiwari said.
At the first roadblock, where massive boulders had fallen on the road, was a team of three doctors from Doctors for You, an NGO.
"We were headed to Phata and beyond to assess the needs of the people here. Apart from medical help, villagers also need psychological counselling, such has been the nature of this tragedy," said Anurag Mishra, joint secretary of Doctors For You.
They were preparing to cover the 7 km from that point to Phata by foot.
"The villages above Phata are completely cut off, there is no means to reach them other than by foot. In such circumstances, relief work becomes a major challenge," Mishra added.
Swami Sivaroopananda of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, who has sent a team comprising volunteers from Raipur, Jabalpur and Haridwar to provide essential supplies to villages here had similar experience to share.
"We have a school in Ukhimath and we have been able to cover many remote villages. But the damage to the road network is severely hampering our mission," he said, adding that the quicker aid reaches the affected villages the better.
Oxfam India workers, who reached Ohata on Saturday with food and medical supplies also raised concerns about the villages which are cut off without roads and reaching them through helicopter seemed to be their only hope.
"I will talk to district officials here to see if we would have air support in our endeavour," Oxfam India coordinator K Ambalavanan said.
A Border Roads Organisation staffer, too, was making his way on foot to Phata to arrange for dynamite with which huge boulders lying on the NH 109 could be cleared.
"We have some 400-500 workers present here. The effort is towards responding immediately to any roadblocks caused by landslides. Such cases repeatedly occur during monsoon. But this time the need is urgent. We are doing everything we can to make sure that the roads are always clear," the BRO worker said.
"District officials have to assist us in opening those routes. Otherwise how long can we keep carrying supplies on our backs. We cannot continue lugging rations back. We need the roads," said Dharmendra Singh a local resident who's job was to conduct pilgrims on mules to Kedarnath.
"In fact, we want Kedarnath now to be connected by road although we know that if that happens we will have to look for another source of income," another local resident, Sanjay Singh said.
Till the cloudburst washed away the last part of it, NH 109 went up to Gauri Kund. From there, a pilgrim would either take a mule or walk to Kedarnath, a distance of 14 km.
Some, mainly the elderly and infirm, reached the shrine borne on the backs of Kandi, or cane-basket carriers.
"The death toll in the flash flood would have been far lower had there been a road up to Kedarnath. We have also lost relatives in the tragedy. We know how helpful it would be to have a road which went up to the temple," Sanjay said.
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