Uttarakhand disaster: Armed forces step up rescue operations, Kedarnath evacuated

Dehradun: A mammoth multi-agency rescue and relief operations were put in place on Thursday in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand evacuating people from the worst-affected Kedarnath town and other areas even as the death toll is feared to be in several hundreds and an equal number missing.
50,000 people were still said to be stranded in various parts of the state that was hit by cloudburst and floods in the upper reaches that left several hundreds of homes, rest houses and buildings in ruins and thousands of people missing.
The official death toll still stood at 150 but Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the casualties could run into several hundreds which will be known only when areas become accessible and water recedes. The state government's disaster mitigation and management centre had said that the causalities could run into thousands with about 90 dharamshalas (resthouses for pilgrims) swept away in the flash floods.
Stepping up relief and rescue operations, the Defence Ministry has deployed more than 45 Army and IAF choppers along with more than 10,000 troops in the state. IAF has deployed 20 Mi-17s and 16 Advanced Light Helicopters in the state where they have evacuated over 1,500 people.
The Army has heli-dropped troops skilled in mountain rescue operations, including 30 paratroopers with specialised equipment, to rescue those stranded near Kedarnath and Badrinath.
Many people were stranded there for last four to five days. "The Army has so far rescued more than 11,000 people, mainly from Govindghat and Harsil. About 10,000 people are also being provided food and medical assistance," an Army release said.
Some of the survivors rescued from Kedarnath described the enormity of the destruction. Ravinder Bhatt, a sewak at the Kedarnath temple rescued by the Army, said over 90 dharamshalas and hotels at Kedarnath had been wiped out and there was no news about the 100 priests who performed puja at the temple. Around 1,000 traders at Ram Bada town are also missing. 
With over 15,000 people stranded at Kedarnath, Govindghat and the Rudraprayag district having been evacuated, ITBP chief Ajay Chadha clarified that the worst affected Kedarnath temple area had been evacuated but 'there could still be about 400-500 people in the upper reaches'. He said Army will launch operations on Friday to bring these people down.
The Rambada area around the temple was still in slush and debris and there could bodies submerged in it, he said. Chadha also said they were not in a position to give the complete death toll in the disaster unless bodies are recovered. There could be a lot of people who could have been washed away but in such situations eyewitness accounts could sometimes be exaggerated, Chadha said. 
22 helicopters have been deployed to rescue and evacuate over 22,000 stranded people to safer locations through hundreds of sorties. Food, medicines and other essentials were also carried to the needy by the defence forces. 
The ITBP DG, who is also in-charge of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), said 17 bodies were recovered by the troops of the specialised force from the Kedarnath area. The state government has been informed. Gaurikund, the base camp for those going to Kedarnath temple, also witnessed rescue of 250 people on Thursday by small helicopters. 
Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna termed the calamity as unprecedented adding that the casualties caused by the tragedy would run into several hundreds. "The tragedy is huge and damage tremendous with vast tracts of land still submerged under tonnes of debris. The causalities must run into several hundreds," Bahuguna told reporters at the secretariat here.
Army has also deployed over 8,000 of its troops along with over 3,000 personnel of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Defence Ministry officials said in Delhi. In the wake of poor connectivity and communication, relatives of several pilgrims who came from outside the state were struggling to find the whereabouts of their dear ones. 
The upper reaches of the state lay mute witness to the death and devastation caused by nature's fury due to Saturday's cloudburst and landslides and a complete estimate of which was still not available. 
Uttarakhand Principal Secretary (Home) Om Prakash told reporters here that 1,000 people have been evacuated from different places. Rescue efforts have also picked up in the district of Kinnaur in Himachal.
Uttarakhand disaster may be declared national calamity, indicates Chacko

New Delhi: The Congress on Thursday indicated that the Union government could declare the flood and landslide disaster in Uttarakhand a national calamity.
“Government is seriously considering it,” party spokesperson P.C. Chacko said while responding to questions that the political parties are in favour of declaring it a national calamity. He said the party has “not made any recommendation” as these things are decided by the government. 
Meanwhile, the India Meteorological Department has warned that from June 23 the weather will worsen and it is likely to start raining again. 
Next: Google's app to trace missing persons in flood-affected areas

Google's app to trace missing persons in flood-affected areas
Mumbai: Search engine giant Google has launched an application ‘Person Finder’ to offer information on missing people in flood-affected areas in the country, including Uttarakhand.
Google Person Finder is a web application that allows individuals to post and search for the status of relatives or friends affected by a disaster, Google said in a blogpost.

"Since last week, the state of Uttarakhand in India has been grappling with severe floods. Given that most of these areas in the state are highly inaccessible with intermittent communication, Google Crisis team bring you the Person Finder," the blog post by Jayanth Mysore, Google APAC Senior Product Manager, said.
The tool can help trace the missing people in flood-affected regions of Uttarakhand and is available in Hindi and English, it added. All data entered into Google Person Finder is available to the public and searchable by anyone.
The programme also lets press agencies, non-governmental agencies and others contribute to the database and receive updates by using the Person Finder API based on the PFIF open standard.


NDMA set to be more proactive

New Delhi: The Centre is planning a re-structuring of the apex disaster management body of the country, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), to make it less top heavy and more proactive in crisis situations. 
Presently, the NDMA has only advisory, planning and policy functions, and lacks any mechanism to 'ensure and enforce' mitigation measures. 
The body, headed by Prime Minister,  Manmohan Singh, has one Cabinet minister rank vice-chairman and six others who enjoy the rank of ministers of state. 
Incidentally, the Union home minister is not part of the body in its present form. A taskforce setup to review functioning of NDMA has submitted its report to home minister Sushilkumar Shinde recommending changes to the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which governs the apex body.
Sources said the taskforce has suggested slimming down the body and necessarily integrating it with other government agencies to ensure smooth coordination and accountability.


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