Uttarakhand calamity toll mounts to 680, may touch thousand mark

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Dehradun: Rescuers on Saturday recovered 123 bodies from Kedarnath premises which bore the brunt of the calamity in Uttarakhand, taking the death toll to 680 as the hill shrine was totally evacuated.
"Kedarnath has been totally evacuated of pilgrims now and the next step would be to evacuate pilgrims from Badrinath where nearly 8,000 people are still stranded," Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters here. Admitting the huge scale of havoc wreaked by the deluge on the state, the Chief Minister said the casualty figures are certainly far higher and can easily touch the one thousand mark.
A senior state government official said 123 bodies have been recovered from Kedarnath where a team of experts went on Saturday to a take count of bodies strewn all over the place. More bodies may come to the surface in the next couple of days as the slush and debris lying in the area is removed, said the official who did not want to be quoted.
Bahuguna said both central and state governments are trying their best to rescue people still stranded in the affected areas with 44 helicopters and a huge number of army and para-military personnel engaged in the rescue operations. He also said the rehabilitation of Kedarnath shrine is on top of the government's agenda and it will be done on a priority with suggestions from the Archaeological Survey of India, Bahuguna said.
He said out of the 1,000 pilgrims sighted in Junglechatti area near Gaurikund earlier on Saturday, 400 have been evacuated. About 600 pilgrims are still stranded in the area have been provided with enough food material and medicines. "Now our focus is on Badrinath, from where 500 people were evacuated today, and the number of stranded people there is 7,000 to 8,000," the chief minister said. 
"However, I take heart from the fact that 529 breached roads have been repaired by the PWD due to which stranded pilgrims are being brought to Haridwar from Fata and Guptkashi areas," Bahuguna said, adding the evacuation process will be quickened with the restoration of broken roads. He said the bodies being recovered from different places in the state will be disposed of as per traditional rituals and a Mahayagya will be held in Haridwar on the 13th day of the tragedy for the peace of the departed souls.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi accompanied by former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri undertook an aerial survey of the affected areas in Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts. On their return to Shantikunj in Haridwar, Modi told reporters he saw thousands of people stranded at places.
"This shows many more persons are yet to be evacuated to safety but at the same time it is good to see that so many people are still alive," he said. He said arrangements should be made for their safe evacuation at the earliest. 

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