Toll mounts to 138, slush hampers search for survivors8 August 2010
The Daily Excelsior
From Mohinder Verma LEH: The death count in worst ever devastation mounted to 138 today with armed forces recovering more dead bodies including four of Army jawans from the rubble while as hundreds of persons including 33 Army men continued to be missing even as rescuers have been encountering huge slush in their search. In the meantime, nearly 1200 stranded tourists including foreigners were airlifted from here to Union Capital and more relief material, medicines and equipment of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) airlifted here in three IL-76 aircrafts of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Braving heavy odds, the Army with the assistance of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and other para-military forces besides local volunteers continued rescue and relief operations in the devastated areas for the third consecutive day today. After struggling through piles of mud and slush in the flattened villages particularly Choglumsar, the rescuers recovered 6 more bodies including four of Army jawans. While two bodies of Army men were found from the debris in Leh, other two recovered from Tyakshi area of Turtook on Indo-Pakistan border where these Army jawans along with 33 others were manning a post when they faced the natureís fury on the same day when Leh was hit by a devastating cloudburst and flash floods. 'Thirty three jawans continue to be missing in Tyakshi area and rescuers are finding it difficult to trace them as around 28 feet high debris has got accumulated in the area', the spokesman said while apprehending that these jawans might have been washed away in flash floods. Once picturesque landscape has turned into a disaster zone with tossed up vehicles still lying scattered. Walking on the layers of unstable mud in worst hit Choglumsar village, the rescuers were finding the high-tension wires hanging next to them. 'There is virtually a see of mud everywhere and at some places the same is about 10 feet high', some rescuers said when the operation for the day concluded this evening, adding 'with scores of houses in all the devastated areas continued to be buried under several feet of mud, there are very less chances of people being rescued alive and the death toll will increase sharply'. Two French nationals have also been killed in Fridayís devastating cloudburst while efforts were on to rescue 174 foreign tourists stranded at various places in the district. The bodies of two French nationals identified as Augariwelus and Hellot- were extricated from the debris, an ITBP official said, adding 'these are the first foreign casualties in the tragedy'. An injured Spanish tourist was also evacuated by an Army helicopter from Egu belt to Leh. During the day today, nine commercial flights were operated between New Delhi and Leh in which a total of 1196 stranded persons including 1089 tourists and 107 Army personnel were airlifted to the Union Capital. Indian Airlines operated four flights while as Kingfisher three and Jet Airways two flights, an official spokesman said, adding these airlines will continue to operate additional flights between New Delhi and Leh tomorrow as around 2000 tourists including foreigners were still stranded here. Besides tourists, thousands of labourers particularly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Chhatisgarh have also been stranding. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) airlifted BSNL equipment here from New Delhi and Chandigarh to restore vital communication links, which got snapped due to mudslide triggered by cloud burst and flash floods. Even heavy duty bulldozers were also transported here to clear the debris. One IL-76 aircraft was used to transport BSNL equipment from New Delhi while two AN-32 aircrafts airlifted additional equipment from Chandigarh. An IL-76 aircraft was pressed into service to transport one heavy-duty bulldozer, an official spokesman said, adding even a JCB machine was also airlifted here from Jammu as the existing number of bulldozers and JCBs were not enough to clear the rubble from all the devastated areas. The BSNL engineers will soon start equipment installation work and preference will be given to re-start of mobile services so that rescue and relief operations could be handled more effectively. The Government has also re-started SMS services in Leh, that had been banned in the State a few months due to security reasons, to help in relief and rescue operations in the region. More relief material, medical equipments and additional teams of specialized doctors and para-medical staff were also airlifted during the day today in IL-76 aircraft from New Delhi and AN-32 aircraft from Udhampur, he said while disclosing that Western Air Command chief Air Marshal NAK Browne, under whose charge the northern sector falls, also visited Leh airbase to oversee the relief and air bridge operations. He was accompanied by Air Vice Marshal R Sitaraman. During the visit, Air Marshal Browne reviewed the infrastructure of Leh airbase and also met the station personnel and commended them for restoring full fledged operations from Leh airbase in record time of seven-and-a-half hours, the Defence Ministry said. Meanwhile, 11 dead bodies and an injured along with their seven relatives were airlifted to Udhampur from here in two AN-32 aircrafts for onward transportation to their native places in Doda, Kishtwar, Samba, Pathankot and Rajasthan. Among them, seven belonged to Doda and one each of Kishtwar, Samba, Pathankot and Rajasthan. The bodies were received by Udhampur district administration, which had arranged ambulances for their onward transportation. The deceased have been identified as Pritam Singh, Pardeep Singh, Shiv Lal, Imran Ahmed, Mohd Hanif Malik, Javid Ahmed, Issaq Ahmed Malik, all the residents of Doda, Ghulam Nabi Rather of Kishtwar, Roshan Lal of Samba, Beeru Ram of Ganganagar, Rajasthan and Rakesh Kohli of Pathankot. The injured person, who was also brought at Udhampur and then shifted to Doda District Hospital has been identified as Bishan Kumar. Some relatives of the deceased have been undergoing treatment in Leh as they were not in a condition for being airlifted. The bodies of four Jammu and Kashmir Police jawans, who lost their lives during rescue operations here, were also airlifted to Srinagar. They have been identified as Sub-Inspector, Mohammad Ali, Head Constables Abu Hussain, Nissar Ahmed and constable Mohammad Hussain, all from Kargil district. Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Qamar Ali Akhoon received the bodies at PCR Srinagar. Later, the bodies were sent to their native places in Kargil. An official spokesman said, 'Sonamarg-Kargil and Leh-Manali roads are being repaired speedily and expected to be cleared for traffic by Monday evening', adding 'video conferencing link between NICs of Leh, Kargil and Srinagar has been established and the facility is being availed to monitor the ongoing rescue operations'. He said that Principal Resident Commissioner has been asked to procure and arrange for airlifting of 15,000 to 20,000 drinking water bottles to Leh for a period of three days initially and the first consignment of 1300 bottles will reach here on Monday. Earlier, in the day, Minister of State in Prime Ministerís Office, Prithvi Raj Chauhan reviewed the rescue and relief measures before leaving for the Union Capital. He was informed by Chief Executive Councillor (CEC), Tsering Dorje that communication system, road connectivity, irrigation khuls, power and drinking water supply have been affected in all the flood hit areas. He sought adequate funds from the Centre for early restoration of irrigation khuls to save the remaining standing crops in flood affected villages and areas besides taking restoration of link roads. Mr Dorje requested the Union Minister to get the DPR under Flood Management Programme (FMP) approved by the Centre, which he said has been already submitted for approval. He also demanded more tents, diesel generator sets of 3-5 MW capacity and additional funds to tackle the situation arising out of the cloudburst and consequent floods. Mr Chauhan assured to pursue the demands with the Central Government and said that he will also approach Civil Aviation Ministry for operating more flights to Leh for air-lifting stranded tourists and other people.