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Uttarakhand: Weather clears, rescue operations begin

10: 35 pm: Weather clears for rescue operations

The weather has reportedly cleared in Uttarakhand and it is helping rescuers evacuate stranded people at various locations like Badrinath, reported CNN-IBN.

Thousands are still stranded in pilgrimage sites like Badrinath owing to the roads leading to the site being washed away and could take days to be repaired.

8.20 am: Mass cremations begin in Rudraprayag district

Mass cremations began on Wednesday at Kedar Valley in Rudraprayag district in accordance with religious tenets. The cremations took place amid fears that an epidemic might begin due to the decomposing bodies.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, Rudraprayag district magistrate Dileep Jawalkar was not able to specify the number of cremated bodies due to a lack of contact with the officials who had gone there for this purpose.

8.00 am: 'Human greed' and bureaucratic red tape is the next hurdle to cross, says Uttarakhand chief secretary

In a conversation with the Times of India, Uttarakhand chief secretary Subhash Kumar acknowledged the role that 'human greed' will now play in the relief process. "Government departments have started coming up with exaggerated demands for funds and we have to address the issue of whether money meant for reconstruction should be left at the discretion of tehsildars and local officials," said Kumar. "Bahut log khush bhi hote hain. (Some people find such situations convenient)."

The devastation in Uttarakhand will, however, require an immediate and transparent response. Infrastructure in the form of roads, bridges and hospitals has been completely washed away. The reconstruction is primed to take at least two to three years.

"Babuon ka chakkar hoga (there'll be the complex web of bureaucratic procedures. Contracts may not be awarded swiftly as decisions taken even by the rank of the officer of principal secretary in one department will be required to be examined by a chain of officers in the finance department. The whole process can go on for up to year," said Kumar to the Times of India.

"Single tender situations will be created by cartels of contractors who'd try to bag the big contracts. We can address the problem only by laying down transparent norms for procurement and award of contracts."

The chief secretary also told TOI that he has suggested to the chief minister that the comptroller and auditor general as well as the central vigilance commission should be involved in setting up the authority and the finalization of norms for the disbursement of reconstruction funds as well as for award of contracts and procurement.

End of updates for 26 June.

10. 30 pm: Crooks claim aid by posing as relatives of affected pilgrims

A team of Revenue officials from Maharashtra has foiled a bid of crooks to claim financial assistance and other benefits by posing themselves as relatives and acquaintances of the pilgrims from the state affected by floods in Uttarakhand.

The team from Thane district, including deputy collector Manoj Ranade, was deputed in Kedarnath to assist pilgrims from the state stranded in the rain-ravaged Uttarakhand and has so far helped out more than 2,500 pilgrims, one of the officials who is part of the team told PTI.

He said a group of 35 persons approached the officials in Uttarakhand claiming that they are the relatives and/or acquaintances of pilgrims from Maharashtra who are missing.

The relief announced by the state government includes Rs 2,000 cash for return journey, medicines, food and other aid.

9.30 pm: Uttarakhand faces threat of possible outbreak of diseases 

Uttarakhand now faces a new threat: possible outbreak of diseases as the waters from the flash floods recede. A few diarrhoea cases have already been reported from Haridwar (Alwalpur), Uttarkashi (Udvi) and Rudraprayag (Chandrapuri), an official of the health ministry said.

But no food or air borne has been reported.

Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Jagdish Prasad told IANS: "A total of seven teams, including four from the central health ministry and three from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMHANS), Bangalore, have reached Uttarakhand to assess the threat of epidemics and other health issues."

The teams from NIMHANS will provide psycho-social support to the victims.

Apart from this, teams of health experts from the state government have also fanned out across Uttarakhand.

8. 30 pm: PM condoles death of IAF personnel in chopper crash

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked to Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne to condole the death of Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel who died in Tuesday's helicopter crash in Uttarakhand.

According to an official release, the prime minister said he had "full confidence in the force and its capability to overcome this tragedy and continue the arduous task in Uttarakhand".

"Your men have done heroic work in treacherous circumstances and saved thousands of lives," the prime minister told Browne. He said the country was grateful to the armed forces for their selfless and determined efforts in helping the people in the aftermath of the disaster.

An IAF helicopter on a rescue mission in flood and landslide-hit Uttarakhand crashed Tuesday, killing 20 personnel from the IAF, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the National Disaster Response Force, besides pilgrims.

7:51 pm: Air India flies out 400 pilgrims, tourists

Air India has flown out over 400 pilgrims and tourists from various places in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand.

The national carrier has facilitated seats to more than 350 passengers for Chennai and 75 for Odisha, who were stranded at different locations in Uttarakhand, a statement from the Civil Aviation Ministry said.

AI was providing a 50 percent discount on the basic fare to the passengers on the flights operating out of Dehradun and its officials were in contact with resident commissioners of Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh providing details of availability of seats.

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5:40 pm: Shinde says Uttarakhand airspace now open to all VIPs, including Modi

After facing flak for Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi visiting Uttarakhand while rescue operations were on, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that it was now all right for VIPs to visit relief operations.

“I had advised VIPs not to travel Uttarakhand as situation then was different. At that time rescue and relief operations were going on in full swing. The advice was for only three-four days. But now situation has changed. Anyone can go there. Even Modi can go,” he told reporters.

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5.18pm: 560 dead, 340 missing, says NDMA

National Disaster Management Authority vice chairman M Shashidhar Reddy today said that the official death toll stands at 560 while 340 people are missing and nearly 4,000 people still stranded.

Making clear that there is high possibility of the death toll climbing up, Reddy said, "There are 10 feet high debris in Kedarnath and we fear that several bodies are trapped."

However, the disaster management body said that the rescue unit has little role to play in the cremation of the dead as it is the responsibility of the local administration.

"NDMA will only coordinate in the process," he said.

The NDMA second-in-command also offered his condolences to the families of the victims of Thursday's IAF chopper crash in Gaurikund and paid his homage to the deceased.

Admitting that retrieving the bodies of the dead is getting difficult he said, "Bodies of the deceased in the air crash will be brought out from the crash site in two-three days. It is a tough terrain."

4.38pm: Kedarnath Temple

According to CNN-IBN, Uttarkhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said that the state government will build the Kedarnath temple that was ravaged by the flood fury on 15 and 16 July.

4.25pm: Moderate rainfall reported in Phata, Gaurikund and Guptkashi hampering air operations. According to CNN-IBN, 5,000 people are still stranded in Badrinath.

3.20 pm Army launches website giving details of its rescue operations

The website is called Suryahopes.in. The website contains the latest information on army's rescue operations and users can get a list of people evacuated at this website. Apart from flashing the latest, the site also contains a list of updated helpline numbers and links to state govt sites.

Read more here

2.20 pm: All twenty bodies recovered from chopper crash site

Paramilitary soldiers have recovered all 20 bodies from the Gaurikand chopper crash site.

The helicopter crashed late Tuesday when its rotor blades hit the hillside while returning with survivors of flooding and landslides that have killed more than 1,000 people and washed away thousands of homes, roads and bridges since mid-June in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

Soldiers using ropes reached the crash site early Wednesday and found the bodies of 20 people, including five air force crew members, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said.

The helicopter's cockpit voice recorder was recovered and an inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the crash, Browne said.

Some 45 aircraft have been used in rescue and relief operations, but intermittent rain and dense fog have dogged the efforts since Sunday.

Troops were trying to rescue about 5,000 people who remained stranded in the towns of Badrinath and Harsil.

1.54 pm: Rajnath Singh directs state units to not flag off relief material

In a clear dig at Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi's flagging off of relief convoy trucks yesterday, Rajnath Singh has tweeted that the BJP has directed all state units not to flag off relief material as it "hurts human sensibilities". He also tweeted that the BJP today dispatched eight truckloads of relief material and Rs56,06,994 as a symbolic gesture.

1.45 pm: RK Singh insists that the state had asked ITBP for help with specialised equipment

Home secretary RK Singh told CNN-IBN that the jawans were the first to reach the scene of the devastation. "They were working in very adverse circumstances," Singh said. "On the cremation tussle between the Centre and the state force, it's not true that the ITBP has refused to cremate bodies. The state had asked for help, but in terms of specialised equipment, not personnel."

Singh asserted that help was being provided. "Our focus is not just to rescue tourists but also to help villages. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is on the job of repairing roads that have been washed away." Singh also said there was no final casualty figure that had been reached.

12.39 pm: 5 IAF personnel, 9 from NDRF, 6 from ITBP in chopper crash

Officials have said that the dead from the chopper crash include five IAF personnel, nine from the National Disaster Response Force and six from the ITBP.

Eight sorties have been completed since morning in Harsil, to bring back stranded survivors from various areas. However bad weather has meant that air rescue efforts have been choppy. In Badrinath, air evacuations only stared after a considerable delay in the morning.

Meanwhile the army has constructed a steel bridge between Badrinath and Joshimath to aid rescue operations on foot.

11.06 am: Air rescue operations resume in Badrinath

Air rescue operations have resumed between Badrinath and Joshimath thanks to a let up in the rain.

However choppers are grounded in Phata, Gourikund and Gaurikund where rain has resumed. The Met department has also warned that helicopter movement is risky as heavy isolated showers are likely in pockets of the state.

Gaurikund is the site of Tuesday's tragic crash where a rescue chopper with 20 people on board came down while returning from a rescue sortie in Kedarnath.

10.45 am: Compensation for families of jawans killed in chopper crash

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has rushed to announce compensation for the families of those killed in the chopper crash near Gaurikund on Tuesday. In addition to Rs 10 lakh each for the families of those killed, Bahuguna said that the children of these jawans would receive free education in the state.

He has also declared a day of state mourning.

Uttarakhand is home to a number of prestigious schools like the Doon school and the Wellham boys and girls schools.

Meanwhile Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has said that he will also donate a sum of Rs 5 lakh for each of the victim families.

10.31 am: Twelve bodies recovered from chopper crash site

Four more bodies were recovered by IAF commandos near Gaurikund in Uttarakhand where an IAF Mi-17 helicopter carrying 20 people had crashed during a rescue mission and all onboard are feared killed.

During night-long search operations, Garud commandos recovered four more bodies, IAF sources said, adding that till this morning 12 bodies have been found from the site of yesterday’s crash of the large Air Force chopper.

The dead include five IAF officials while the identity of others is being ascertained, they said.

There were 20 people onboard the ill-fated chopper — five from IAF, six from ITBP and rest from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) sources said.

The Mi-17 V5 chopper was on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath and crashed yesterday afternoon while returning from Kedarnath north of Gaurikund, according to an IAF spokesperson.

9.56 am: Morale is still high, insists IAF chief

IAF Chief NAK Browne who visited the site of a chopper crash on Monday said meanwhile, that most of the evacuation work has been completed, adding that they would continue with rescue work once the weather allowed them a window of opportunity.

Speaking about the chopper crash that took place on Tuesday evening Browne said, "What exactly happened we will know only once we recover MI17 voice data recorder. We have sent commandos to the crash site. We have recovered recording devices and only analysis will reveal the cause of the crash."

However Browne was also quick to say that the IAF was not going anywhere. "Morale is still very high...Our rotors will not stop churning", he said.

The Air Chief also said that 20 people had been killed in the crash.

9.47 am: Heavy rains ground choppers, further landslides feared

Rescue operations continue to be severely affected by bad weather as torrential rains show no sign of letting up. Air rescue operations have been grounded in most areas and while ground operations are continuing, CNN-IBN reports that landslides are a fresh threat.

9.00 am: Epidemic fears in Uttarakhand, while bodies continue to decay

According to CNN-IBN, floods affected areas in Uttarakhand are facing the threat of a spreading epidemic. The report says that in the past 3 days more than 300 villagers from villages of Rampur, Sitapur and Sonprayag have reported sick with similar symptoms such diarrhoea, fever, dysentery etc.

Hitender Negi, a Doctor in Guptkashi, said, "Many people suffering from diarrhoea, dysentery and there are no doctors present. There has been very heavy rainfall this year and due to many bodies in the catchment area there are too many flies in the area."

Most of the local villages depend on natural springs for drinking water.

"There are so many bodies across the Kedarnath valley that it is not surprising that their decay is causing contamination of water. It needs to be contained now or we could have a bigger problem at hand," an ITBP official said told Times of India.

7.00 am: MI17 V5 crash

According to Captain Ajay Srivastava, another pilot flying on the same route, the MI17 that crashed had flown from dehradun with their helicopter in the morning. He told CNN-IBN, "The incident happened at 1 or 2 pm around Guptkashi, and got confirmed at 4 pm. The weather is very bad."

MI 17 chopper had taken off from Gauchar and was heading towards Gaurikund. The reason for the crash is not known but unconfirmed reports say it could have been because of fog. The IAF says its operations in the area will continue.

There were 19 people on board the aircraft and 8 bodies have been recovered.

Updates for 25 June 2013 end

10.03 pm: BSNL restores 272 mobile towers

State-run telecom operator BSNL has restored 272 mobile towers in Uttarakhand and 44 telephone exchanges, CMD RK Upadhyay today said.

The company, however, could not restore telecom infrastructure at three locations - Dharchula, Narayan Bazar and Kedarnath where all equipments of the company were washed away in the devastating floods, he added.

The BSNL chief said technology makes it possible for authorities to find out the exact number of people in the affected areas based on their mobile phone usage.

"It is technically possible to know how many customers were there (during the calamity) in that area at a particular time. That can be done," BSNL Chairman and Managing Director RK Upadhyay said here.

When asked if BSNL tried to find out the number of its customers who could have been hit by floods, the BSNL CMD said: "This is for government to consider. As a licencing authority, the government can task any operator to do that.

Technical systems of each operator is independent and BSNL can find out about it customers."

The death toll has crossed over 800 due to unprecedented flash floods in Uttarakhand and initially over 70,000 pilgrims were estimated to be stranded in affected area. As on date 8,000 people are still estimated to be stranded in flood area.

Upadhyay that over 1,250 people used BSNL's mobile tracking service, accessible though helpline number 1503 and 09412024365, to know last location of their friends and relatives using BSNL mobile connection in flood-hit areas.

"We have responded to 949 queries till first half today," he said.

Telecom operator MTS and Aircel have also similar started mobile tracking services. These services can be accessed by dialling 91-9152550000 and 91-9152550001 for knowing the last location of an MTS number and 91-9716215000 and 91-9716218000 for an Aircel number.

For Bharti Airtel, the numbers are 9818003057 and 9958976317 while for the last location of an Idea Cellular customer, people can dial 8191999999 and 8191999998.

PTI

9. 40 pm: IAF claims 8 bodies recovered, 19 feared dead

Nineteen people, including Air Force and para-military personnel, were today feared killed when a sophisticated IAF helicopter crashed in bad weather near Gaurikund in Uttarakhand during rescue operations.

Vice Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) M Sashidhar Reddy said eight bodies have been recovered and chances of any survivor among the 19 onboard were remote.

"There were 19 people onboard including NDRF, ITBP and IAF personnel. Eight bodies have been recovered," he told PTI.

An IAF spokesperson said in Delhi, "One Mi-17 V5 chopper on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath while returning from Kedarnath crashed north of Gaurikund."

Among those killed were three IAF officers, she said, adding that eight people died in the mishap.

Rudraprayag SP Varinderjeet Singh said the cause of the crash is not immediately known but chances are high that the mishap occurred due to bad weather.

A senior Air Force officer in Gauchar said the ill-fated Mi-17 chopper had made two sorties to the Kedarnath area since this morning and was on its third sortie when it crashed.

The crash occurred in "difficult" weather conditions created by rains and fog, he said.

The chopper belonged to a unit from Barrackpore Air Force Station in West Bengal under the Eastern Air Command.

A Court of Inquiry has been order to investigate the crash, the spokesperson said.

The IAF said its operations in the area will continue.

IAF had started inducting Mi-17 V5 choppers only last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.

This is the second incident of a helicopter crash this week in the hill state.

A private helicopter carrying relief materials for the rain-affected people in Rudraprayag district had crashed on Sunday near Gaurikund leaving the pilot injured.

PTI

8.00pm: PM condoles loss of life in accident

"Our forces are conducting a heroic task in rescue and relief work in Uttarakhand. This accident during relief operations has come as a huge shock to me. My heart goes out to the families of those who have lost their lives. The nation mourns with me the loss of our heroes whose selfless work has saved thousands of lives. Continuing their work would be the best homage to them."

6:45 pm: IAF says rescue operations won't be affected by crash

"One Mi-17 V5 chopper on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath while returning from Kedarnath crashed north of Gaurikund," an IAF spokesperson said.

Eight persons on board, including five crew members, suffered fatal injuries in the mishap, she said in Delhi.

A Court of Inquiry has been order to investigate the crash, the spokesperson said.

The IAF said its operations in the area will continue. IAF had started inducting Mi-17 V5 choppers only last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.

This is the second incident of a helicopter crash this week in the hill state.

A private helicopter carrying relief materials for the rain-affected people in Rudraprayag district had crashed on Sunday near Gaurikund leaving the pilot injured. (PTI)

6:30 pm: Fog may have been cause 

The MI17 V5 is one of the biggest choppers being used by the Indian Air Force in the rescue operations there and according to CNN-IBN, the chopper that crashed was one of the latest that the Indian Air Force acquired.

Currently the cause of the crash is being stated as fog though there is no confirmation about the cause of the crash yet.

A court of inquiry has been ordered into the incident by the air force.

6:10 pm: IAF MI17 helicopter crashes, 8 dead

An MI17 chopper carrying pilgrims during a rescue sortie has crashed, reports CNN-IBN. 

The chopper which was engaged in rescue operations in Kedarnath was reportedly carrying three civilians and five crew members when it crashed, the report said.

The chopper crashed near Gaurikund. Air Traffic Control officials said they lost contact with the chopper while it was in Gaurikund area.

The cause of the crash is still not known and rescue crew are en route to the site of the accident.

There is no confirmation of any survivors from the crash, the report stated.

5:00 pm: Uttarakhand could see more rains

The meteorological department has said that it expects more rainfall over the next two days.

The heavy rainfall will only affect the rescue operations further, given rescue operations were affected today as well on account on the heavy rains in Uttarakhand.

4:20 pm: More bodies trapped under debris, says NDMA

The National Disaster Management Authority has said that they suspect there are many dead bodies under debris strewn across the flood affected areas and were still attempting to figure how they could detect them.

"There is no such terminology as a 'national disaster'. The disaster in Uttarakhand has been declared a disaster of severe nature," a senior official of the NDMA said at a press conference today.

The housing secretary of Uttarakhand is the person handling relief materials from all over the country, he said.

The NDMA official also said that in the case of a natural disaster, MPs can contribute up to ten lakhs of their personal salary.

3:35 pm: Death toll could rise above 1,000, says Bahuguna

The Uttarakhand Chief Minister has said that the death toll is presently pegged around 1,000 but that number could rise in the coming days as rescue operations continue:

2.30pm: Centre allocates extra 4,000 tonne of wheat, rice

The Centre today allocated an additional 4,000 tonnes of wheat and rice for relief measures in flood affected Uttarakhand.

The death toll has mounted to 822 after torrential rains on 15-16 June led to flash floods in Uttarakhand, leaving large numbers of travellers and pilgrims stranded at different locations in the state.

According to a senior official from the Food Corporation of India, "We have received an order from food ministry to allocate an additional 2,000 tonnes of wheat and rice each to Uttarakhand at an economic cost".

The economic cost means the minimum support price (MSP) plus other charges incurred during procurement and storage.

Currently, the economic cost of wheat is around Rs 19 per kg and that of rice Rs 24-25 per kg.

The Uttarakhand government has been told to lift the additional allocation in the next 50 days, the official said. (PTI)

1:15 pm: Inclement weather affects rescue operations 

CNN-IBN reports that air rescue operations from Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib have been suspended again to due bad weather.

12:50 pm: Toll rises to 807 after 127 bodies found in Kedarnath

Rain and fog delayed rescue operations in Uttarakhand where the death toll in the calamity rose to 807 with 127 more bodies recovered from Kedarnath even as security forces began the process of cremating decaying corpses lying in the shrine premises.

Fresh incidents of landslips were also reported from Tehri district in which a woman and a child were killed. Foggy and overcast conditions in Dehradun delayed take off by choppers at Sahasradhara helipad and Jolly Grant Airport but air rescue operations to evacuate around 9000 people have now resumed with improvement in the weather.

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12:30 pm: What Kedarnath looked like before the floods and after

The Kedarnath temple which survived the flash floods in the state has however, been badly damaged with estimates that the pilgrimage to the temple may have to be halted for the next few years.

Here are some images of the temple before and after the floods

 

11:30 pm: SC tells Centre to step up rescue efforts

After reading the Action Taken Report from the Uttarakhand and Centre the Supreme Court has scheduled the next hearing of a PIL questioning the relief efforts in Uttarakhand to Friday.

The apex court has told the Centre to step up relief efforts in Uttarakhand, CNN-IBN reported.

The next hearing has been scheduled for Friday after the petitioner in the case sought time to submit some more data in connection with the case, reports stated.

11.10 pm: Waiting for weather to improve in Kedarnath, says ITBP

The Indo Tibetan Border Police force which is conducting rescue operations in Kedarnath, have said that they are waiting for weather to clear before finishing up rescue operations in the area.

"60 people are still stranded in Kedarnath, mostly Sadhus and porters, will rescue them once weather clears", Ajay Chadha of the ITBP to ANI News. "Weather continues to be bad in Uttarakhand, we are looking for improvement in weather so that helicopter sorties can be conducted", he added.

10.41 am: Worst is over, says Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has said that bad weather is continuing to create problems for rescuers, given that choppers are unable to fly on rescue sorties. Around 10,000 people are believed to be trapped in various areas across the state and though ground operations are continuing, these have also been greatly slowed by the bad weather.

However the Chief Minister said that the worst was over. "We are making efforts to provide compensation to the people as soon as possible", he said, adding that the maximum deaths have occurred in the Kedarghati.

Bahuguna added that there was still no word on an official death toll, adding that they would have to wait for more information from rescue agencies. The official toll is expected to be just over a 1,ooo but the CM had previously said that it was highly likely that the number of dead could top 5000.

10.13 am: 430 rescued from Harsil-Gangotri area

Despite heavy rains which are hampering rescue operations, people are still being evacuated.  430 people have been evacuated from the  Harsil Gangotri access, CNN-IBN reported.

Heavy rains have been forecast for most of the day.

9.16 am: Heavy rains continue to hamper rescue work

The Met department has said that heavy rains will continue in flood hit Uttarakhand today, further hampering rescue efforts.

The latest forecast said that there would be heavy rains in the regions of Uttarkashi and Chamoli as well as in other areas. Thousands are still stranded in the area.

The heavy rains have grounded air rescue efforts, severely hampered ground operations and also prevented the holding of mass funerals in Kedarnath, where bodies are starting to decompose, authorities said.

Meanwhile forces are calling in more reinforcements for rescue work. The elite MARCOS unit of the navy has been called in to aid search and rescue operations in Rudraprayag and drones will be used to retrieve bodies from inaccessible areas.

6.30 am:  Preparations for mass cremation under way 

The operation to evacuate stranded pilgrims from the flood-affected areas of Uttarakhand has run into a spot of rough weather, with rains picking up again. But simultaneously, rescue and relief teams are grappling with another looming crisis: the disposal of the hundreds of corpses in and around the Kedarnath shrine.

Time is of the essence if an outbreak of an epidemic is to be averted. Some of the bodies, which have been lying in the sun and the rain for more than two weeks, are said to be decomposing rapidly. But authorities are also wary of offending the religious sensitivities of the faithful.

Media reports have it that  Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde consulted spiritual leaders, including Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand, to learn the proper religious protocol for performing a mass cremation near the Kedarnath shrine. The gurus are learnt to have said that if the proper rituals were abided by, the cremation would cause no spiritual pollution.

Accordingly, the Times of India reports, 150 quintals of wood, sourced from local depots, was transported to Gauchar. From there, it adds, the wood would be moved to Kedarnath by helicopter. Given the amount of wood that's required, it would take a very large number of sorties.

But rain on Monday prevented helicopters from taking off, which means that one more day was lost. Authorities now say they hope to complete the mass cremation on Tuesday.

Updates for 24 June end

10.45 pm:  13,000 still stranded, rains hamper rescue ops

The army and security forces battled renewed rains Monday to evacuate many of the 13,000 people still stranded in the hills of Uttarakhand where devastating floods have killed hundreds.

With the rains hitting much of the helicopter operations, soldiers took to rescuing the stranded men, women and children by foot in a coordinated operation involving the state and central authorities.

Fresh landslides occurred on the key road linking Rishikesh and Rudraprayag, hitting rescue efforts. But the route ahead to Joshimath was open.

Officials said some 1,400 people awaited evacuation at Harsil, 50 at Dharali and 60 at Jhala in Uttarkashi and another 5,000 at Badrinath, near the worst-hit area.

A massive cloudburst near the revered Kedarnath shrine and the humongous floods that followed ravaged the hills of Uttarakhand over 10 days ago, causing a terrible calamity.

With vast stretches of mountain roads cut off, thousands of locals as well as pilgrims got stranded in various hills.

Monday's inclement weather led to the abortion of many sorties of the Indian Air Force (IAF). The army carried on rescue operations on the route from Badrinath to Joshimath and from Harsil to Uttarkashi.

In Badrinath, 281 people were moved by land late Sunday after the construction of a Burma bridge across the swollen Alaknanda. The army set up a heli bridge at Lam Bagar in addition to a foot bridge.

Two army and three civil helicopters ferried people from Badrinath. Eight hundred were moved towards Joshimath, both by air and on foot.

"Our aviators challenged the weather in the Badrinath valley to transport people," an officer from the army's Central Command told IANS.

In Uttarkashi, MI-17 helicopters made 16 sorties to take out 402 people from Harsil. Another 683 people reached Uttarkashi by foot.

Knowing that food is in short supply, the army has stocked food, water and medicines at Sukhi and Gagnani. Food was distributed at Govindghat and Joshimath.

Most big sized army helicopters were grounded for most part of Monday.

In the Kedarnath area, special troops from the mountaineering unit continued to look for survivors between Jungle Chatti and Rama Bara areas.

More rains have been forecast in the coming days. On Monday, rains battered many areas including Dehradun, Chamoli and Paudi where relief operations have been halted.

A cloudburst in Malan village in Paudi has devastated many houses though no casualties have been reported.

Besides the army, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are also evacuating the stranded.

The government says 557 bodies have been found. Some officials and rescuers have said the fatalities may run into hundreds, if not thousands.

The rains have cut off communication to Tilwada and Gaurikund, where more than 500 people are stuck. Efforts to evacuate them were aborted due to heavy rains.

Rains are also lashing Guptkashi, Harsil and Badrinath - places where thousands are still stranded. Water levels have again risen in the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers.

In New Delhi, aid agency Save the Children said thousands of children and women stuck in Uttarakhand needed immediate medical attention and food.

Help is pouring into Uttarakhand from all over the country.

In New Delhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi flagged off trucks carrying food, medicines, clothes and blankets.

In Himachal Pradesh' Dharamsala, hundreds of Tibetan exiles offered prayers for those who died in that state and Uttarakhand.

IANS

10.26 pm: CM Bahuguna defends decision to return choppers

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna defended his decision to return some rescue choppers by saying that bad weather was hampering rescue effort.

"We have 44 choppers at our disposal, but because of bad weather we are running only 14 or 15," Bahuguna told Times Now.

He said that though relief is pouring in from all states, because the roads have been washed away he cannot send them to areas higher up in altitude.

"We are storing all relief material in Haridwar. I am unable to send everything higher up. If I am hungry I cannot eat 500 rotis at one go. I need time to distribute relief," Bahuguna said.

He requested all states to call up his officers before they send in relief material. "I need help from all states, but please give me liberty to control my relief work," he said.

9.48 pm: NDRF, ITBP have rescued 32,772 people so far

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel have so far rescued 32,772 people from different areas of Uttarakhand following landslides and floods, an official said Monday.

Of the 32,772, including pilgrims and residents, 26,538 were rescued by ITBP while 6,234 were evacuated by NDRF personnel till Monday afternoon.

"The rescue operation is still on in Harsil and Badrinath areas where 15,00 and 5,000 pilgrims are still stranded respectively. Other areas of Uttarakhand have been fully evacuated," an NDRF official said.

Some 50 to 60 holy men are still in Kedarnath because they are not willing to leave, said the official.

NDRF personnel Monday rescued 126 people from Harsil.

"Due to cloudy weather and drizzling, air evacuation was hampered. Pilgrims are being evacuated through ropeways," ITBP Director General Ajay Chadha told IANS.

Chadha said that ITBP personnel have prepared three ropeway bridges between Hanuman Chatti and Lambgarh across Alaknanda river.

"Of the 26,538 people rescued by ITBP, 1,509 people were rescued Monday between 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. through ropeway bridges," said Chadha.

ITBP evacuated 269 bodies while the NDRF team recovered 125 bodies till Monday.

IANS

9.07 pm: NAK Browne assures help to all flood victims

Indian Air Force chief NAK Browne on Monday assured people still trapped in flood-affected regions of Uttarakhand that his force will continue to fly helicopters till each one of them was evacuated.

"Our helicopter rotors will not stop churning till such time we get each one of you out. Do not lose hope and hang in there," Browne said in a message to the stranded people who need to be air-lifted.

An official release said IAF had committed 45 aircraft to "Operation Rahat".

The release said that IAF has since June 17 airlifted 10,731 people, flying 1,163 sorties and dropping/landing 184,262 kg of relief material and equipment.

IANS

6.24 pm: Survivors safe, rescue ops to end within 2-3 days, says Bahuguna

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna today said the remaining stranded people--numbering about 10,000--in the flood-ravaged state are safe and that the mammoth multi-agency evacuation process will be completed in two to three days.

"Worst is over now. All are safe in Badrinath, Harsil and Gangotri. Army, ITBP and NDRF are present there. It will take 2-3 days to finish the rescue work. Kedarnath valley is almost evacuated," Bahuguna told PTI over phone.

As the state tries to recover from the floods and landslides triggered by the monsoon rain on June 16, Bahuguna said precautionary measures have been taken in the wake of the forecast by the weather office that heavy to very heavy rainfall will hit the state over the next three days.

"There are people stranded in Badrinath and Harsil but they are looked after. Army, ITBP and NDRF are present there. All the arrangements of food and water are made. As soon as the weather permits, they will be evacuated," he said.

Bahuguna also said the state did not require helicopters from other states.

"Some states have offered to provide helicopters which we don't need. We have enough helicopters. Some states have given cheques in CM relief fund and we want to thank them," he said.

He also added that the state government will start disbursing compensation to the affected persons within a week.

"Once the evacuation and rescue work is over, we will start distributing relief and disbursing compensation. This was the worst tragedy but I am sure we will overcome this with the help of state governments and Prime Minister," he said.

The Chief Minister also dismissed allegations that locals were being ignored in evacuation and relief work.

"We are evacuating everyone, whether they are locals or piligrims. We are not discriminating," he said.

Bahuguna did not think that VIP visits have been hampering the rescue work.

"VIPs are not going to those areas where people are stranded. They just make an aerial visit and go back. They are also not using the helipad made for rescue work," he added.

Once the rescue work is over, he said the state government's prime challenge will be to restore the infrastructure that has been damaged in the deluge which is expected to take about three years.

"This tragedy has pushed us three years back in terms of development. The economy of Uttarakhand is based on tourism and we have lost infrastructure. We have to rebuild roads, electricity towers and all the basic infrastructure. It will take about 3 years to restore everything." he said.

PTI

4.52 pm: No more private choppers from states, says Congress

The government reportedly wants individual states to stop sending individual choppers to Uttarakhand, saying that such steps would create confusion. CNN-IBN quoting sources, reported that the centre had said that if any state wanted to send choppers or other relief, that it should be done via the Uttarakhand government.

The move interestingly comes, even as reports claimed that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had personally saved 15,000 pilgrims by deploying a fleet of choppers. The claim has since been rubbished by Congress Ministers including Ajay Maken who dismissed the 'Rambo' like intervention as impossible.

Meanwhile the Congress party said that a total of 83 choppers had been deployed for rescue operations. Bad weather has been hampering air rescue efforts however, with persistent rain preventing choppers from taking off and landing.

4.50 pm: Rahul Gandhi arrives in Uttarakhand

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today flew to Dehradun amid criticism for being absent from the scene of the massive flood that hit Uttarakhand two weeks ago.

The absence of the Congress leader had been greatly criticised by opposition leaders, and had also led to a huge deal of social media commentary and mockery with the hashtag #WhereIsPappu trending on Twitter India last week. However party spokesman Raj Babbar had sought to downplay the comments last week.

Rahul earlier flagged off a convoy of 24 trucks carrying relief material from Delhi to Uttarakhand along with his mother, Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

4.46 pm:  Survivor hung from Kedarnath temple bell for 9 hours

For 36-year-old Tehri-resident Vijender Singh Negi, hanging from the Kedarnath temple bell while standing over floating corpses in neck-deep water for nine straight hours proved a life saviour.

While the house of god sheltered him from the nature's fury, the agonising nine hours spent between the divine and the dead still haunts him, according to his relative.

Negi's brother-in-law Ganga Singh Bhandari, a Delhi-based travel operator, said seeing him return alive was nothing short of a miracle and tells how the "dead saved Negi's life".

"He stood hanging from the temple bell from 7 am to 4 pm, the day after the disaster struck. He stood on corpses to balance himself. His clothes had been torn to pieces by the water's fury but he somehow withstood the force hoping to come out alive," Bhandari told PTI. Bhandari's hotel located right beside the Kedarnath Temple got washed away in the torrent in front of Negi's eyes, even as he jumped out of the building. "My brother-in-law (Negi) jumped off from the roof of our three-storeyed hotel into the water, before finding shelter in the temple. He saw hundreds of corpses floating inside," Bhandari said.

"He has big ulcers on his hands. Not only the nine hours proved excruciating, he battled to stable himself hanging from the temple bell as the water's force tore his clothes apart rendering him in a state of nature," he said. "As he held on to the bell for hours, his grip began to lose. Dead bodies were floating besides him. So, to gain balance he stepped on to floating bodies to withstand the testing hours," he added. "As his clothes were torn to pieces, he took clothes from the bodies around him to shield his almost naked body.

The thought of it still sends shivers down his spine. "After the level went down he climbed out of the waters and lay in the jungle for two days before the army helicopters rescued him," he said. "His family in Tehri could not stop crying when they saw him alive. He has little children. It was god's grace that he returned from the jaws of death," he said.

PTI

3.15 pm: AK Antony to review rescue operations

Defence Minister AK Antony will today review the relief operations being carried out by the Army and the Air Force in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand and discuss the role of the defence services in the reconstruction work in the hill state.

The role of armed forces in reconstruction work in Uttarakhand will come up for discussion after demands from several quarters that they should be involved in it for the faster recovery of the state whose large parts have been devastated, Defence Ministry officials said here.

The Defence Minister will discuss the issue with the top security brass of the country including National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Defence Secretary R K Mathur and the three Services chiefs.

The Defence Minister will also hold a separate review meeting of the state of roads in the state with Director General of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) Lt Gen A T Parnaik, they said.

From day one of the crisis, the forces under the Defence Ministry have deployed their assets and personnel in large numbers to provide all possible relief to the civilians and the pilgrims stranded in the higher reaches of the state.

The IAF has deployed more than 50 choppers along with its C-130J Super Hercules Special Operations aircraft to provide help to the stranded people while the Army has deployed over 10,000 of its jawans there.

PTI

2.30 pm: Urgent need for medicine, food and water says Save the children

Thousands of children and women are stuck in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand and need immediate medical attention and food before the weather deteriorates, aid agency Save the Children said Monday.

"Thousands of children and families have been left stranded in mountains by heavy monsoon rains that swept through the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand," it said in a release.

Relief efforts are entering a critical period as heavy rains are forecast to hit the area, the aid agency warned.

"Thousands of children, pregnant women and old people are in desperate need of food and medical attention. Dozens of villages have been cut off by the flood waters, and homes, livestock and possessions have been swept away. They are running out of food, and we know children are already dying because they can't reach medical help," Save the Children's India director of programmes Latha Caleb said.

She said emergency teams of the organisation are already on the ground, and have reached some of the most inaccessible areas.

In Karadhi village, they found 500 families sheltering in an dilapidated school building after their homes were swept away by the floods, including a family whose one-year-old girl had died of pneumonia because they could not get medical help.

With fresh downpours expected, there is an urgent need for food, clean drinking water, blankets, medicines and warm clothes and proper shelter, she added.

The government says 557 bodies have been found and some 20,000 people were still awaiting evacuation.

(IANS)

1.00 pm: Rahul Gandhi to visit Uttarakhand today

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi who was out of the country, is due to visit flood hit Uttarakhand later today.

The absence of the Congress leader had been greatly criticised by opposition leaders, and had also led to a huge deal of social media commentary and mockery with the hashtag #WhereIsPappu trending on Twitter India last week. However party spokesman Raj Babbar had sought to downplay the comments last week.

"The in-charges of states look after the regions under their charge. The Congress president is herself monitoring the entire relief work in Uttarakhand, and no one should take pains to ask who is doing what," Babbar said, in comments reported by PTI.

Rahul Gandhi earlier flagged off a convoy of 24 trucks carrying relief material from Delhi to Uttarakhand along with his mother, Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

12.51 am: Kedarnath cremations to take place today

The bodies in and around the temple town of Kedarnath will be cremated today. Authorities said however that DNA samples would be taken and bodies would be photographed before last rites were performed.

Air rescue operations have been temporarily suspended as rain continues in the state. However ground operations are continuing. So far 8,000 people have been evacuated but another 15,000 are suspected to be stranded in the area.

Uttarakhand authorities are reportedly trying to arrange for as much as 50 tonnes of wood and as much volume of 'desi ghee' to conduct the last rites.

Officials of the Garhwal administration have sounded authorities in the state 'Van Nigam' (Forest Corporation) and other agencies to gather as much fire wood and logs and pick cans of 'ghee' from the open market.

"We want to start the funerals today in Kedarnath provided the weather permits. All concerned authorities have been asked to make arrangements," a senior state government official said.

The official said that funerals have to start today in the temple town or else the bodies will begin decomposing.

12.15 pm: No major gaps in relief efforts, says NDMA

VK Duggal of the National Disaster Management Agency who has been sent in as the Nodal officer to coordinate relief efforts, held a meeting with all state and central agencies involved in rescue work, and said that there were no major gaps.

"There are really no gaps in coordination. All agencies are doing their best. They have done remarkable work,barring some operational issues, which have been addressed", said Duggal speaking to media after the meeting.

Duggal added that his role was not the implementation of rescue work, which was being handled by the MHA, adding instead that his role was to coordinate between agencies and the state government wherever necessary. Duggal said that he would also facilitate communication on relief efforts between the central agencies and state government.

11.25 am: Sonia, Rahul flag off relief material from Delhi

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party vice president Rahul Gandhi on Monday flagged off relief material for the victims of flash floods in Uttarakhand.

Top Congress leaders were present at the AICC headquarters where Sonia and Rahul flagged off 24 truckloads of relief supplies in addition to the 125 trucks already sent to Dehradun.

Besides the Gandhis, leaders present on the occasion included Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, finance minister P Chidambaram, road transport minister Oscar Fernandes, political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel and AICC general secretaries Ambika Soni and Ajay Maken.

This was Rahul Gandhi's first appearance since the natural calamity struck Uttarkhand as he was abroad.

AICC treasurer Motilal Vora and AICC general secretary and in-charge of Congress president's office Ambika Soni had visited Uttarakhand to oversee relief operations and coordinate with state Congress units which have been sending relief materials.

Congress has set up a control room at Dehradun to accelerate the relief work. AICC secretary Sanjay Kapoor and the party's wing Seva Dal's chief Mahendra Joshi have already been sent to Dehradun to monitor the work.

(PTI)

11.10 am: Stop criticising brave jawan rescuers, says Chidu

With rescue efforts severely hampered because of bad weather, the government of Uttarkhand says that a further 7,000 people are stranded near Badrinath.

Meanwhile Finance Minister P Chidambaram has hit out at criticism of rescue efforts.

"We cannot prevent a natural calamity. However, after the calamity we are working round-the-clock in rescue and relief operations...the jawans are working hard under difficult conditions....it is not like sitting in airconditioned rooms and writing for newspapers," the Finance Minister said.

Chidambaram was referring to reports that the lack of coordination was hampering relief operations in the disaster hit regions of Uttarakhand, and also asked the media not to underestimate the efforts of jawans.

10.02 am: Bad weather plays havoc with rescue ops

Bad weather is, as expected causing problems for rescue workers. Air operations have been halted, and though ground operations are continuing, the threat of further landslides and flooding is a very real danger.

CNN-IBN reported that two minor landslides have occurred between Rudraprayag and Guptakashi road, and that bulldozers have been pressed into service to clear them. Another minor landslide has also been reported from the Rishikesh- Uttarkashi route.

Meanwhile the army has said that it hopes to rescue another 4,500 people from Badrinath which includes 2500 pilgrims, 2000 locals, labourers and temple employees in Badrinath.

"Once the weather improves air operations will be faster" Ajay Chadha,DG,ITBP told IANS.

AFP PHOTO/MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

AFP PHOTO/MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

8.30 am Rains could continue to hamper rescue ops

According to CNN-IBN, rains will continue in Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag. The report quotes Director meteorological department Anand Sharma as saying, "We've predicted medium range of 30-40 mm of rains for Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag areas. But we're also hoping to get one or windows when the skies clear up for rescue choppers to carry out their operations."

6.30 am: Death toll could exceed 5,000, says State Minister

At least 5,000 people may have been killed in the Uttarakhand floods, 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 epicentre of the floods and landslides, was cleared of all stranded pilgrims in stepped-up rescue operations that led to evacuation of 12,000 pilgrims and tourists.

Army engineers looking to restore a fallen bridge over the Ganga in spate. Reuters

Army engineers looking to restore a fallen bridge over the Ganga in spate. Reuters

With MeT department warning of adverse weather in the region from Monday, the multi-agency operations involving Army, IAF, ITBP and NDRF among others raced against time to try to rescue the 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 as of yesterday was put at 680 while Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the death toll is likely to be around 1,000.

However, Arya did not give a specific figure, saying that recovery 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 on Sunday, 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 S S Guleria said the UAV will operate on Monday 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 people stranded in Badrinath, Junglechatti and Harshil areas were evacuated to safe locations by the security forces, officials said. Scores of dead bodies also lay strewn in Kedarnath temple area presenting a gory picture.

"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.

PTI

Updates for June 23 end

8.35 pm: Army to focus operations on Harsil on Monday

According to a statement on the central government's website, the Jungle Chetti area has been fully cleared by joint efforts of Army, ITBP and Air Force and a total of 12,000 people were rescued and evacuated during the course of the day. In all, a total of 83 aircraft were deployed, of which 45 are from IAF, 13 from Army and 25 from the State Government.

The Army will focus their rescue operations on Harsil tomorrow, where about 2,000 people are still stranded, but are being look after by the Army.

The government has arranged for a train to run from Haridwar to Mumbai via Kota that will take stranded people for free. The State Government has also made arrangements for transporting pilgrims after reports emerged of taxi drivers fleecing pilgrims.

Meanwhile the US Ambassador to India, Nancy J Powell, said the US government would $150,000 through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to NGOs working in the most-affected areas
of Uttarakhand.

"The support will provide emergency relief to the families residing in remote areas of the state in coordination with the state authorities," a US embassy press release said.

(with inputs from PTI)

8.00 pm: Symbolic funerals being held for flood victims in MP

Natural disasters like the flash floods in Uttarakhand often leave relatives of victims without a body to have a funeral. So some in Madhya Pradesh have decided to have "symbolic funerals" to pay their last respects.

The relatives of BJP's Indore Division's General Secretary, Bhagwan Singh (45) conducted symbolic funerals for him, his wife Sugan Bai (40) and their close relative Roopsingh (70) by burning wheat flour effigies at Jhalaria village.

Singh, his wife and Roopsingh were on pilgrimage to Kedarnath. Their whereabouts in the aftermath of devastating floods and landslides in the northern state are not known.

Similar rites were conducted at Ujjain district's Hasampur village for Bhartiya Kisan Sangh Malwa Prant
president Indersingh Solanki (60) and his wife Leelabai (55). Solanki and his wife too were in Kedarnath region when the disaster struck and they are presumed to be dead.

At neighbouring Dewas district's Chandana village, symbolic funeral of 50-year-old Devkunwar Bai was conducted. Her death was confirmed, but the body was not received.

(PTI)

7.32 pm: Sanctum sanctorum, bell safe in Kedarnath shrine

Where pilgrims once sat and sang devotional hymns and offered 'aartis' at the 8th century shrine devoted to Lord Shiva, dead bodies are now strewn around in a maudlin manner.

But the temple bell, the 'Shiv Ling' and other idols are safe but under several feet of mud and silt, officials said today.

(PTI)

6.32 pm: Rescue efforts to take another two weeks, says Bahuguna

Rescue teams will take another fortnight to evacuate flood victims as the roads leading to affected areas have been badly damaged, Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has said.

He also said,"Those who are stuck in certain areas in Uttarakhand, there is no threat to their lives."

Bahuguna said, "It's very tragic that so many people have died in this calamity. It will take a long time to rebuild Uttarakhand," adding that the holy town of Kedarnath has suffered the worst.

There will be no Kedarnath Yatra for at least next two years, he told an english news channel.

"It will take another 15 days for the rescue teams to evacuate flood victims as the roads leading to the affected areas have been damaged badly," Bahuguna said on Friday.

On the death toll, the chief minister said, "There are reports that more could be buried under the debris."

On his government receiving a warning in advance from the weather office, he said, "We were not warned about any cloud burst."

About the lack of preparedness of the state in dealing with such tragedies, he said that the state was "very close to putting up a Doppler radar but there were certain concerns by various ministries."

The chief minister denied any delay on the part of the state in sending rescue teams. The magnitude of the calamity is so huge that not even the Government of India has a force which can handle such a situation, he said.

(PTI)

6.25 pm: Haryana CM Hooda visits Dehradun, Rishikesh and Haridwar

Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda today visited Dehradun, Rishikesh and Haridwar to meet the people belonging to the state who had been rescued from various parts of flood ravaged Uttarakhand.

Hooda also reviewed the working of centres set up at Dehradun and Rishikesh by the state government for providing necessary help to the people of Haryana who were stranded at various places of Uttarakhand, an official release said here.

50,000 blankets would be sent for people stranded at various place in Uttarakhand and out of these, 25,000 blankets have already been dispatched from Panipat of Haryana today, Hooda said.

The Chief Minister said that the disaster in Uttarakhand is a "painful" incident and state Government is providing every possible help for the stranded persons to reach their destinations. Hooda also met persons who have been provided shelter at railway station, bus stand, ashram and dharamshalas.

(PTI)

6.11 pm: Bodies to be cremated in Kedarnath

The Uttarakhand government has said that the bodies found in and around Kedarnath would be cremated in the temple town. However they have said that photographs and DNA samples would be taken from all the bodies prior to cremation.

Meanwhile in further bad news, there is more heavy rain in the state, particularly in Sonprayag.

5.54 pm: 5000 still in Badrinath, says govt

The Uttarakhand government has said that 5000 people are still stuck in Badrinath, even as the ITBP said that it had rescued 2500 people from the area and expected to rescue another 6000 by this evening.

Rescue efforts are being stepped up as heavy rain is expected to resume on Monday.

5.35 pm: Met predicts heavy rain in Uttarkhand foothills on Monday

The Met department has said that there will be heavy rain in the Uttarakhand foothills on Monday, even as rescuers batted low visibility and intermittent rains in an effort to save stranded people.

CNN-IBN quoted the Uttarkhand regional Met director as saying however that despite the heavy rains there was little to no likelihood of another cloud burst. Be that as it may however, rains will definitely hamper rescue efforts. Increased rain also increases the chances of landslides occurring and air rescue becomes impossible.

5.15 pm: Centre is working on long term plan for redevelopment, says Cong

Congress leader Ambika Soni said Sunday that the central government is working on a long-term plan for reconstruction of the severely damaged areas of flood-hit Uttarakhand.

Soni, who is in charge of the party's affairs in Uttarakhand, flew in to Dehradun to oversee relief and rescue efforts.

"In the hour of crisis, the entire nation stands in solidarity with the people of the Uttarakhand," said Soni, a Congress general secretary who is also in charge of the Congress president's office.

She said efforts would be made to reconstruct the severely damaged areas near the revered shrine of Kedarnath, that were devastated in the floods and cloudburst last week.

Soni arrived along with party treasurer Motilal Vora and Haryana Chief Minister BS Hooda.

Hundreds have been killed and thousands stranded after flash floods, heavy rains and landslides hit Uttarakhand last weekend.

5.00 pm: MP deploys buses in Haridwar to bring back stranded pilgrims

The Madhya Pradesh government has deployed 10 buses at Haridwar to bring back the safely stranded pilgrims in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand, official sources said today. The state government is also making efforts to deploy a light-weight helicopter in the rescue operations as the heavy ones were finding it difficult to land in difficult terrains, the sources said.

One such helicopter is leaving from Bangalore soon, they said.

The chief minister also directed all the district collectors to gather information in their respective districts about the persons stranded in Uttarakhand and coordinate with the official team camping in the hill state for bringing them back to the state.

PTI

4.30 pm: Over 2500 rescued from Badrinath

Over 2,500 people were rescued Sunday from Badrinath in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) said. Another 6,000 are expected to be rescued by evening.

All of them have been brought to Joshimath, said ITBP spokesman Deepak Kumar Pandey at a briefing.

"Nearly 500 people are stranded still in Jungle Chatti (area and) we are carrying out aerial surveillance to rescue them," he said, adding that 6,000 more people will be evacuated by evening. With Sunday's evacuation, the ITBP has rescued close to 22,000 people from the hills of Uttarakhand, where hundreds have died in cloudburst and floods.

ITBP has also built a road from Badrinath to Hanuman Chatti to speed up the rescue operations.

"Earlier, we had to bring people from Badrinath till Hanuman Chatti by foot, but now the road has been built, we are bringing them by vehicles," Pandey said.

He said that bodies were being found in hills and jungles, five to ten kilometres away from the Kedarnath shrine.

"As the flood came, several people ran towards the hills but must have got lost in the woods with no sense of direction... with no food and water, they died," said Pandey.

The government says 557 bodies have been found and some 20,000 people were still awaiting evacuation. Some officials and rescuers have said the fatalities may run into hundreds if not thousands.

(IANS)

4.27 pm: Uttarkhand was a natural disaster but devastation man-made, says NDMA

As the toll in the flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand continues to mount, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has admitted that much of the massive destruction caused was man-made.

"We had unprecedented rain within a few hours and as a repercussion, we had a cloudburst and landslides. That was a natural disaster but the huge devastation was due more to local factors. If you build a hotel or a house near a flood plain, a disaster like this is likely," explained NDMA vice chairman M. Shashidhar Reddy to IANS.

Reddy said the NDMA has issued detailed guidelines to the states on river plains and how these environmentally fragile areas should not be tampered with, adding that the authority had only limited jurisdiction.

Read more here

3.46 pm: Air operations resume, Jungle Chattri and Yamunotri evacuated

Air rescue operations have resumed in Uttarakhand and the army has said that everyone has been evacuated from Jungle Chattri and Yamunotri, but that search operations are still on. Meanwhile CNN-IBN reported that pilgrims in Badrinath are demanding more choppers to carry them to safety.

Rescue operations have been greatly hampered by worsening weather, and army personnel are racing against time as the Met department has predicted more heavy rain in the area starting Monday.

Meanwhile the army has also opened a bridge at Lambargha, allowing traffic along the Badrinath - Joshimath route.

2.45 pm: Tibetan government announces Rs 3 Lakh for Uttarakhand relief fund

The Tibetan government-in-exile today announced to contribute Rs 3 lakh to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund for the flood victims of Uttarakhand, where the death toll has reached 680.

"We are deeply saddened by the devastating rain and flash-floods and offer prayers and sympathy for the families of those who have lost their lives and suffered injury or loss of property in this natural tragedy," Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) said in a statement released here today.

"As a gesture of solidarity with rescue efforts, the CTA will contribute Rs three lakh to the Chief Minister's relief Fund," it said.

The toll in the unprecedented tragedy rose to 680 till yesterday with 123 bodies being recovered from Kedarnath area and Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna saying the casualty figures may touch the 1,000 mark given the massive scale of devastation.

1.40 pm: Air operations have suspended again due to bad weather reports PTI

Air operations to rescue stranded people in flood-hit Uttarakhand have been suspended due to overcast conditions but the ground operations are on, Indo-Tibetan Border Police chief Ajay Chadha told PTI.

"Most of the people who are stuck in the areas near Kedarnath shrine have been evacuated. The rescue operations on the ground are on, but the air sorties have been suspended for the time being due to adverse weather conditions," he told reporters here.

"Low clouds are creating problems, but we are making attempts to fly to reach out to stranded people. As soon as weather conditions stabilise, flights will be resumed," he said.

The ITBP team has reestablished the road route from Badrinath to Hanuman Chatti which is being used to carry on foot rescue operations. "The team has brought 2,500 people till Hanuman Chatti today. From there, they will have to walk 10 kilometres till Gobind Ghat. From Gobind Ghat they will be transported by vehicles to Joshimath," he said.

Road connectivity has been restored in Pithoragad. "We were also facing some difficulties in carrying air operations due to air turbine fuel (ATF) shortage. The oil tankers have started reaching us. We are sharing our reserved oil stock with IAF," he said.

12.14 pm: 80,000 people rescued in Uttarakhand

With rescue operations picking up steam, the army is now reporting that 80,000 people have been evacuated from Uttarakhand. NDTV reported that five helicopters are on rescue mission from Badrinath.

Brigadier Uma Maheshwar, from the Army Central Command speaking to CNN-IBN said that due to the temporary suspension of air operations earlier, the army teams had established ropes on the mountain slopes using cliff assault techniques.

"The people are being moved now over the mountain from Jungle Chetti up to Gaurikund. The process has started, the people need not worry. We have established emergency rescue camps with medicines, rations, blankets, food and water. We are also giving personalised medical attention at Gaurikund. On the Yamnotri access army has reached Hanuman Chatti, which is 15 km short of Yamunotri. We have come to know that there are about 700 people stranded between Hanuman Chatti and Janki Chatti near Yaminotri. By the afternoon we will be able to link up with them and start evacuation processes", he said.

The brigadier added that the critical areas now were Jungle Chetti and Bhairon chetti. "Kedarnath is not a critical area, only 60-70 people are left there now", he said.
11.49 am: Rescue operations resume as weather clears

After a brief suspension due to bad weather early in the morning, the rescue operations in rain-hit Uttarakhand resumed today on a war footing to evacuate 22,000 pilgrims still stranded in high altitude areas amid a Met department warning of light to moderate rains in the region from Monday.

Over 40 choppers and 10,000 army and paramilitary personnel are engaged in the rescue operations.

Moderate rains in Dehradun and Joshimath delayed start of rescue operations early this morning but they resumed as the weather cleared up after about an hour, official sources said,
adding that in view of the MeT department warning of light to moderate rains at places, rescue efforts have been stepped up.

With a number of breached roads now repaired, the evacuation process is likely to be quickened as many stranded pilgrims are now being shifted to safer locations through road routes as well, they said.

ITBP DIG Amit Prasad told reporters at Gauchar that foot tracks are being built in an area of about 50 kms near Badrinath to evacuate stranded pilgrims.

"This is being done to reduce our dependence on weather, which may hamper air rescue operations. These roads are being built in Mana outpost near the shrine. About 200 ITBP jawans are engaged in the exercise," he said.

11.00 am: No air operations, but army sends in troops on foot

The road to Rudraprayag has been opened, but rescue efforts are only happening on the ground as bad weather has made air rescue operations impossible.

The army says that they are sending in rescue teams on foot. Troops have also rebuilt vital infrastructure to enable stranded people to leave.

One such makeshift bridge at Sonprayag withstood over 1500 people who crossed it to safety. Major Anil Mehra of the engineering regiment said that the bridge was an initiative by one local who was then helped by personnel from the army, the NDRF and other civilians.

The met department has predicted further heavy showers in the area.

10.05 am: Heavy rains in Kedarnath, helicopter ops halted

Rescue operations have taken a major hit due to bad weather, with many pilgrims still stranded in the area. Heavy rain has been reported from Kedarnath, while air operations have been suspended in Jungle Chatti. Civilian choppers also can't take off from Olly Airport yet.The visibility there is currently is between 50 to 500 metres.Required visibility is 1500 metres.

A fresh threat of landslides has also halted operations at Sonprayag.

The only positive news came from Joshimath, where two Indian Army Cheetahs took off for Govindghat where an attempt is on to make a helibridge.

The army has said that 2,000 people are awaiting evacuation on the Gangotti-Harsil axis. About 800 people are still stranded in areas of Gaurikund, Jungle Chatti and Bhairav Chatti with the maximum number of people stranded in Jungle Chatti. The rescue operations will only begin according to the Indian Air Force, as and when the weather clears up.

9.40 am Bahugana on his way out? 

According to a report in Business Standard, the Uttarakhand CM could be on the way out. The report which quotes, sources in the ruling Congress government said the party high command wasn't happy with Bahuguna and was considering a change of guard in the state.

Bahugana had been quoted as saying that the states was not prepared for floods.“It is true we do not meet the norms of disaster management. It is also true that there is lack of personnel. We need to pull up our socks,” he said in an interview to CNN-IBN.

Previously it was also reported that the CM was heading to Switzerland even as disaster had struck the stated. More on that here.

Low visibility affecting rescue operations, army launching operations on foot.

8.30 am: Army launching foot operations to Badrinath where around 9000 people still stranded including 3000 locals.

Around 200+ jawans to trek on the Badrinath axis and they have to cover some distance of 40kms and it might take 2-3 days for the trek.

8.00 am: Mist is slightly better but still no visibility for choppers to take off, reports Smita Sharma from IBN7.

7.30 am: According to IBN7's Smita Sharma, Joshimath remains enveloped in white mist and there's no visibility.

Meanwhile rains continue which is also affecting the rescue work. There are reports of rains in Rudraprayag and Harshil, while it rained through the night in Dehradun.

Sorties were not taking off from Gauchar, Fata helipads either due to rains and poor visibility.

End of updates for 22 June

9.30 pm: Roads being restored on war footing

Assessing the unprecedented destruction at rain-ravaged Uttarakhand including 110 major landslides in small stretches, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has taken a massive road rehabilitation programme in the state, pressing into service about 4,000 men.

"The extent of damages is unprecedented. As per assessment made, a total of about 13 km length of road at 100 places have been breached. Major slides have occurred at 110 places and nine bridges have either been washed away or damaged," an official said quoting a report.

A massive road rehabilitation programme has been taken up by BRO in the entire Uttarakhand area where it has pressed into service more than 90 excavators and bulldozers, as per information.

BRO has also suffered huge losses on these roads and many of its vehicles and machinery have been washed away.

The official said about 4,000 BRO personnel and workers are making efforts to restore connectivity, working day and night to speed up clearance work.

When contacted, Commander, 21 BRTF, BRO, Col N M Chandarana told PTI that situation was very grave and at one place an entire two-and-a-half km stretch on Badrinath to Joshimath route was washed away.

He said efforts were being made to restore connectivity on war-footing and 350 BRO men alongwith 1,200 workers were making all efforts to restore connectivity.

Meanwhile, as per the report from the area, road up to Uttarkashi is open for all vehicular traffic on Rishikesh-Dharasu-Gangotri, while beyond Uttarkashi there are major breaches in roads at many locations.

Road clearance work has also started from Gangotri side and major part of road between Gangotri & Harshil has been opened for light vehicle or pedestrian traffic, the official said quoting the report.

Efforts are on to open the road between Uttarkashi and Harshil which has suffered major damages, he added.

About Rishikesh-Joshimath-Badrinath-Mana road, he said the stretch has been opened up to km 496 (Govind ghat) and there are major breaches beyond Govindghat.

"Fifty metre bridge at Lambagarh has been washed away. Efforts are on to link the road from both Govindghat and Badrinath sides. Efforts are under way to make a foot track bypassing breach area for speedy evacuation of stranded passengers from Badrinath and Hemkund Saheb area," he added.

Terming the Rudraprayag-Gaurikund Road as the worst affected road in Uttarakhand, he said presently the stretch from Rudraprayag side has been cleared upto 7 km while efforts are underway to clear the road beyond the stretch till 35 kms.

About the bridges, the report said Songanga bridge at km 70.30 has been washed away while the other at 35.60 (Rawanganga) was also damaged.

As far as Tanakpur–Pithoraghat–Tawaghat–Ghatiabagarh road is concerned, the stretch up to Pithoragarh is clear for all traffic. Beyond Pithoragarh, the road is through up to 80 km and after that the four-km stretch has been breached at more than 30 locations.

Two bridges have also been damaged before Tawaghat while one has been washed away. Massive operation of road clearance has been undertaken, including efforts to establish foot-tract connectivity.

The detailed reports suggest that Jauljibi–Munsiyari road is closed due to major breaches at about 10 locations and foot-track connectivity has been established in most of the road portions for transportation of ration and general public.

The official said many other lateral roads in charge of BRO have suffered extensive damages and are still closed.

It may be recalled that BRO has been working on more than 2,000 road projects along India's borders.

The organisation has constructed more than 50,000 km of roads in far-flung areas of 16 states, including new constructions and widening of single-lane highways. Besides, it has built 99 major bridges in five decades of existence.

BRO has successfully constructed and maintained roads in the most inhospitable terrains and altitudes.

 

8.55 pm: Death toll may touch 1,000 as rescue ops race against time

Racing against time in the face of predicted adverse weather, over 10,000 people were today evacuated from various upper reaches of flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, including the worst-affected Kedarnath, as the death toll may touch 1,000.

In all, 70,000 stranded people have been brought to safety in the mammoth ongoing multi-agency operations and more than 22,000 remain to be evacuated, according to information given by the Centre and the state government.

While tomorrow the weather may stabilise, those engaged in the operations are worried about the rain forecast for Monday and Tuesday that could hamper their work.

"The death toll is likely to be around 1,000," Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters here as the Himalayan tragedy unfolded after the gushing waters left behind a trail of death and destruction.

A conclusive figure can be arrived at only after the slush and debris under which bodies could be buried are cleared, he said.

Officials said 123 bodies were recovered from the Kedarnath temple complex raising the official death toll to 680. Army officials said 83 bodies were identified and handed over to authorities.

Mounting the biggest-ever operation to evacuate people from a disaster zone in peace time, 61 helicopters, including 43 of IAF and 11 of the army, were deployed. World's biggest Russian-made MI-26 helicopters that can carry about 150 passengers were pressed into service today.

Information and Broadcating Minister Manish Tewari told reporters in Delhi that while the Army and ITBP rescued 4,000 people each, air force chipped in to move the rest.

He said all central and state government agencies were working in full coordination, a point he made hours after Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said there seemed to have been some lack of coordination.

Former Home Secretary V K Duggal, who is also a member of the National Disaster Management Authority, has been appointed to coordinate the work of various agencies in rescue and relief operations.

8.39 pm: 3,500 rescued, 123 bodies recovered from Kedarnath, says NDRF

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel have rescued 3,500 people stranded in Uttarakhand's Kedarnath, following floods and landslides, since Thursday and now plan to use UAVs to zero in others stuck in the area, an official said.

Of the 3,500 pilgrims, 743 were rescued Saturday from Kedarnath, Jungle Chetti and Gaurikund area.

"A total of 153 people were evacuated from Kedarnath, 470 from Jungle Chetti and 120 from Gaurikund," said an NDRF official, adding 615 people are still stranded in Jungle Chetti and Gaurikund axis.

"With the help of helicopters, we are planning to rescue around 140 people from these areas by Sunday morning," said the official.

The NDRF teams have also recovered 123 dead bodies from Kedarnath area in last three days.

"A total of 83 bodies were recovered Saturday from Kedarnath while one body was found from Gaurikund," said the official, adding: "We are planning to take help of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)from Sunday to find out the stranded people and bodies."

8.22 pm: Sonia to flag off relief material to Uttarakhand on Monday

Pushing the party machinery into the relief work for Uttarakhand flood victims, Congress President Sonia Gandhi will flag off relief materail from AICC headquaraters here on Monday while two senior leaders will be sent to oversee relief work in Dehradun tomorrow.

"Party treasurer Motilal Vora and AICC general secretary and incharge of Congress President's Office Ambika Soni are visting Congress Control Room in Uttarakhand to oversee relief operations and coordinate with PCC sending relief materials," party's Communication Department in-charge Ajay Maken said.

Vora told PTI that he and Soni will leave for Dehradun tomorrow morning to oversee distribution of relief material that reach there from PCCs.

In a press release, Maken said both the leaders are going to further coordinate relief work and related logistics there.

The party set up a PCC control room at Dehradun to accelerate the relief work. AICC Secretary Sanjay Kapoor and the party's wing Seva Dal's chief Mahendra Joshi have already been sent to Dehradun to monitor the work.

Giving a blow-by-blow account of the rescue operations and relief work being carried out in Uttarakhand, the AICC release said 73,000 stranded pilgrims have been evacuated from Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Tehri and Pithoragarh. 2,000 people from Ghangria reached the camps and 500 were evacuated from Garunchatti in Kedarnath today.

Maken said that in addition to the Air Force, state government has also deployed helicopters that evacuated 400 people.

7.40 pm: Survivors praise Indian Army

Having several brushes with death, survivors of the Himalayan Tsunami which left a trail of destruction in Uttarakhand were all praise for Army, which they said has given them a second life.

Sukhvinder Singh, a Ludhiana native who was stuck for eight days on the way to Hemkund Sahib, said, "I was en route to Hemkund Sahib when the disaster struck. The situation was deteriorating with the passage of time... We were bit relieved when Army stepped in. They gave us food and water and helped us in every possible way. Had they not been here, we wouldn't have survived."

Recalling his horrific experiences during the past few days, Aman Bisht, who arranges treks to Hemkund Sahib every year, said, "The road links were shattered and down there we had no bridges left. And even if there was a road somewhere, it was broken. The Army has been very supportive."

Another survivor from Punjab, who was rescued from Joshi Math, said he was able to contact his family only with the help of army personnel.

One Sharan, who along with his family was rescued from Badrinath and brought to Chamouli relief camp yesterday, said, "The situation is pathetic. Had the army not been there, we would not have any chance of coming back ever."

7.18 pm: No damage to Hemkunt Sahib gurdwara, says trust

The Shri Hemkunt Sahib Management Trust today said no damage has been caused to the Hemkunt Sahib shrine by the rain fury in Uttarakhand and it is safe.

"The main Gurdwara building is intact and no loss has been caused to the 'sanctum sanctorum' where the Birs (religious scriptures) is installed," Vice Chairman Narinderjit Singh Bindra said.

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6.53 pm: Army gets access to Badrinath, 5,000 stranded to be rescued tomorrow

The Indian Army has said that they have established the first big opening at the Badrinath axis with a makeshift bridge and will rescue all those stuck there soon. Though out of reach, the DM of Chamoli had earlier said that the people of Badrinath were safe, reports Smita Sharma of IBN 7.

Brigadier Akshat Arora, Commander of Indian Army said that in the Joshimath to Badrinath axis a makeshift bridge has been made at the north of Lambargah village. Twenty army jawans have crossed to the other side and from tomorrow civilians will be escorted over this bridge by army jawans,and doctors.

There are 3,000 pilgrims and 2,000 locals stranded in Badrinath. Though there is no shortage of food supply, the people are getting anxious to get out of the place.

Meanwhile 2,500 people from Gagriya, on the Hemkund axis, have been evacuated.

6.30 pm: Four bodies found in Ganges by UP police, may be from Uttarakhand

The Uttar Pradesh police have said that they have recovered four bodies from the Ganges River in Bijnaur.

The bodies that were found floating in the river are believed to have come from Uttarakhand, reported CNN-IBN.

5.49 pm: Authorities insensitive, say kin of Uttarakhand victims

Carrying photographs, people here are running from one hospital to other in desperation to get some news about their relatives and friends as their patience ran thin due to passage of almost a week since the tragedy struck in Uttarakhand.

Family members and friends of those, who are stranded or missing in the hill state, have come to Dehradun and are desperately searching hospitals and camps to get some news about their loved ones.

They are also condemning "total absence" of sensitivity on part of the administration.

"I have come from Delhi in search of my parents and one of our relatives. I last spoke to them on June 15, since then I have no news about them," said a man whose family had come for Kedarnath pilgrimage.

Another man alleged apathy on part of the government officials and said that "priority is being given to foreigners while Indians are left behind to die".

"My children have been stranded there for the last eight days without food and water. They are borrowing phones to call us, but we are helpless. Authorities are doing nothing, foreigners are being given priority in rescue and relief work while Indians are being left behind to die of hunger," he said.

"No Uttarakhand officials or any public representatives have reached here. No credible information has been given to us by anyone or from anywhere," he added.

Another youth whose relatives are stranded in Gourikund said that his relatives told him that around 2,500 people are stuck there with them.

"I can't understand why despite unprecedented devastation, the tragedy has not been declared a national calamity so far. 2,500 people are stranded in Gourikund with my relatives and it's impossible to evacuate them at the current rate as one chopper is bringing just 10-15 people at a time. Government should press in more helicopters immediately," he said.

Sharan, who along with his family was rescued from Badrinath and brought to Chamouli relief camp yesterday, said, "The situation is pathetic. Had the army not been there we had no chance of coming back ever. I reached there on 15th and that's the time the rain started pouring in."

"Till 18, by the time army stepped in, we had no information. We were told that roads will be cleared in two days but the army came and told us that roads cannot be cleared for 30 days at least. That came as a shocker to me," he said.

5.25 pm: Puja, Namaz for flood victims in Kanpur

People from all walks of life are praying together for the safety of Uttarakhand flood victims as namaz and special puja are being performed in mosques and temples respectively here in Kanpur.

Citizens have extended their condolences for the deceased with taking out candle-light vigils and praying for peace for the victims.

People of the city are collecting funds for people who are still stuck in the affected areas, while Indian Medical Association (IMA) of the city chapter will send a team of doctors tonight.

Kanpur District Magistrate Avinash Singh said that the city advocates have also collected Rs one lakh and submitted it to him in draft and promised to donate more funds in future.

Head cleric Maulana Alam Raza Nuri said that he has directed to all Imams of the city mosques to pray for the flood victims, who are still stuck in post-flood debris and their safe arrival to home.

He said many relief-camps have been set up in the Muslim-dominated villages and edibles and other necessary items will be sent to the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand through the city DM.

Meanwhile, the traders belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Udyog Vyapar Mandal have set up two camps in Collector Ganj market area where biscuits, flour packets, mineral water bottles, medicines and other necessary items are being collected by them.

A truck with the relief-material from these camps will be headed for Uttarakhand tonight, a trader said.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) national spokesperson Praksh Sharma told PTI that the local teams of VHP in Haridwar and Dehradun are taking part rescue operations.

Officials of the Commercial Tax Department have also decided to donate their one-day salary for the flood victims.

5.01 pm: How an Israeli survived River Ganga's onslaught

A phone call from amidst the cold, watery ruins of flood-ravaged Uttarakhand Saturday finally brought peace to the tormented heart of an Israel father whose son had been missing after the nature's fury struck the state last week.

Nadav Ben Israel, in his 20s, who was Uttarakhand to learn yoga, was among thousands of those who remained stranded in Uttarakhand after India's holiest river, the Ganga, flooded following last week's torrential rains.

The flood in the north Indian state also triggered panic at a house in Israel where Nadav's father Yaron Ben Israel was waiting for a ray of hope for his 'missing' son fondly known as 'Deva'.

That ray of hope, Yaron said, streaked into his home Saturday after his son called him from an army base saying he was fine.

"Nadav called me today (Saturday) morning from an army camp. We were really worried for him. There was no word for several days. We kept trying for information but there were only stories of hundreds dying there," Yaron told IANS over phone from Israel. This correspondent telephoned the father after reading a Facebook post.

Nadav, a student of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said his father, trekked a soggy 100 km treacherous terrain with a friend before they found a shelter in a make-shift army relief camp erected for those stranded near Gangotri.

"Nadav was on a holiday. He had gone to Rishikesh to study yoga and wanted to take a detour to the Gangotri when the flooding happened," Yaron said, adding that his son had been missing for nearly a week.

Hundreds have drowned, while thousands of tourists, locals as well as pilgrims are stranded in various places along the Ganga banks in Uttarakhand after torrential rains, cloud bursts and landslides triggered one of the worst known floods in India in recent times.

The army has already been pressed into action to conduct relief and rescue work.

3.07 pm: Army rescues first batch people from remote Junglechetti

The army has a built makeshift helipad in Junglechetti and has evacuated the first batch of people from the remote area in the most inhospitable environment.

They said that the army will also be able to access Hemkund Sahib today.

The army has built a bridge over the Alkananda river in Govindghat and also dug out walk ways that had been washed out by the floods.

It is a race against time for them as the Met department has predicted heavy rainfalls in the next 48 hours that can prove dangerous for those stuck in the hills without shelter.

2:30 pm:  Badrinath completely safe, says official

CNN-IBN has managed to get in touch with the district magistrate of the Chamoli district, who has said that everyone in pilgrimage centre of Badrinath is safe and they hope to evacuate everyone from the pilgrimage site of Humkunt Sahib.

The official said that there was no damage in the pilgrimage site of Badrinath and there were no casualties presently.

The mobile networks and ATMs were functioning  in Badrinath but around 6000 people are still in Badrinath, he said, adding it could take a couple of days to evacuate them.

"But there is nothing to worry. They are completely safe," he was quoted as saying.

1:35 pm: Army begins evacuation of people trapped near Kedarnath at Jangalchetti

NDTV reports that the army has begun evacuating people slowly from the Jangalchetti area where army teams had to be airdropped in order to get access to around 1000 pilgrims who were trapped there.

The army has made a makeshift helipad which is being used presently to evacuate people, the channel reported.

12:35 pm: Army says they will ensure all flood affected will be taken to safety

ANI reports that Lt General Anil Chait has said that they have built many small bridges to transport people to safety yesterday.

"The road link from Uttarkashi to Harsil is open. Today already 250 people have used it," Chait was quoted as saying by ANI.

He said that the disaster in Uttarakhand was spread over 40,000 square kilometres and presently there were 8500 army personnel on the ground assisting in rescue efforts.

11: 30 am: 550 deaths so far,  Shinde says rescue ops taking place on war footing

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who is in Uttarakhand today, said various rescue teams were working to provide relief to the thousands of people who are still stranded in various parts of the state.

"Despite bad weather army, NDRF, ITBP teams are landing and conducting rescue operations...Operations are on a war footing," Shinde told reporters.

As per reports they had received about 200 people were stuck in Jangalchetti, near Gaurikund, and rescue teams were presently working to ensure food is "somehow provided to them", Shinde said.

The Home Minister said that they had recorded 550 deaths in the state till yesterday, 392 people were reported  injured and 334 people are still missing.

Describing the widespread damage in the state, Shinde said 1,751 houses, 147 bridges and 1307 roads have been damaged in the floods.

Shinde said that 73, 000 people have been taken to safety so far  and an additional 30,000-32,000 still stranded.

"We are hopeful of evacuating all people in the next two days," he said.

The minister brushed aside criticism that the disaster was man-made.

"I don't think it is a man-made disaster. There have been two cloud bursts. How can that be called a man-made disaster," he said.

He also said that given the ongoing rescue efforts and weather conditions it was not advisable for any political leaders to carry out aerial surveys of the areas affected by the disaster.

"Let the police and army work professionally. We should not disturb them right now," Shinde said.

He said that if he was unable to travel to affected areas then that should apply to other leaders as well.

The minister promised all the funds needed to carry out relief operations.

"We are willing to provide as much funds are needed, for the Uttarakhand flood relief," he said.

11: 10 am: Angry villagers block road

Villagers angry about the damage caused by extensive flooding and the lack of relief have reportedly blocked the road linking Barkot and Yamunotri, said CNN-IBN. 

11:00 am: Rescue ops to continue even if weather worsens, says Army official

An Indian Army official has said that they are prepared to carry out rescue operations even in the event that the weather worsens over the next 24 hours.

"Despite inclement weather ground operations will continue," Brigadier Uma Maheshwar told CNN-IBN. 

He said that the army group that had found the around 1000 pilgrims near Gaurikund were providing them with food and water.

However, he said that transporting them out of the location would be difficult given that the terrain was extemely difficult and only people with training in mountain climbing would be able to cope with it.

11:00 am: ITBP says rescue over next 24 hours will be crucial

A spokesperson for the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol said that the next 24 hours would be critical to carry out rescue operations given that that the state could see more rains after that.

In an interview with ANI, Deepak Pandey of the ITBP highlighted the difficulties the rescue teams are facing. He said that the ITBP had built a bridge yesterday which they used to rescue people, but it was damaged again last night and they are rebuilding it today.

10:30 am: Army starts dropping paratroopers for rescue ops

In a video that they've just uploaded, the Army has shown paratroopers being dropped in Uttarakhand to assist in rescue operations.


09:00 am: Army finds 1000 people stranded near Gaurikund

The Indian Army rescue team has finally made contact with a group of around 1000 people who were stranded between the pilgrimage site of Gaurikund, reports CNN-IBN.

The group of people have been located between Gaurikund and Ram Bada and ropeways are being used to help evacuate the able bodied among the people.

However, given that there are no roads and the terrain is a difficult to negotiate the evacuation will be a slow process.

As there is no helipad near the location the people will be forced to trek down to a lower location from where they can be evacuated, an army spokesperson told the channel.

08:00 am: Rescue operations to continue today

IBN7's Smita Sharma reports that the army is preparing to start sorties to rescue pilgrims from 9 am if the weather clears up, however, presently it isn't very encouraging.

Army officials preparing for rescue operations. Image courtesy: Smita Sharma

Army officials preparing for rescue operations. Image courtesy: Smita Sharma

She reports that the opening of roads will be important to maximise the impact of the ongoing rescue operations and given that crucial roads to Joshimath have been opened, more evacuations are expected.

06.45 a.m: Modi says disaster is a national tragedy

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday that the the natural calamity that struck Uttarakhand has the proportions of a national tragedy.

"In this hour of crisis, the whole country stands in solidarity with the hill state. We will do all we can to lend a helping hand to the state government to deal with this crisis," Modi told reporters soon after he arrived in Dehra Dun on Friday night.

Modi's choice of words feeds into a potential confrontation between the Congress and the BJP over whether or not the Uttarakhand tragedy should be declared a "national calamity".

The BJP has demanded that it be declared thus, but on Friday,  Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said that the Centre was "in no hurry" to do so.

"What has happened is extremely unfortunate," Tewari told newspersons. "The need of the hour now is not to debate whether the disaster can be classified as a 'man-made disaster' or 'national calamity' but to ensure that every stranded person is rescued and gets back home."

Modi's description of the situation - that the disaster "has the proportions of a national tragedy" - will doubtless feed the chatter over the matter.

The BJP leader will undertake a tour of the affected areas in rain-hit Uttarakhand where the famed Char Dhams have borne the brunt of devastation, especially Kedarnath which has turned virtually into a ghost town with an unspecified number of bodies lying under tonnes of debris in the temple premises and many strewn all over.

Modi said he would meet Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna on Saturday and offer all the help needed to meet the situation.

The Gujarat Chief Minister will also ensure smooth passage of pilgrims from his state who are stranded at the Himalayan shrines.

Two chartered 747 Boeings (Jet Airways) with a capacity of 140 persons each will start evacuating Gujarat pilgrims from high-altitude areas in Uttarakhand to Ahmedabad in two separate sorties on Saturday.

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