Some media reports have stated that the number of dead in the Uttarakhand flood disaster has risen to 1,000, a shocking rise from the 60 reported deaths from the previous days. Information and precise figures are difficult to come by.
Numbers Continues to Rise
Over the weekend, State Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna confirmed with reporters that the death toll had reached 1,000 but the exact number won’t be known until rescue efforts end. It seems that as the rescue teams get to the more remote locations they are finding more and more victims. There are now media reports that the figure of 1,000 dead may now be a conservative estimate and the number may be much higher. From Al Jazeera:
Officials and authorities in the affected state of Uttarakhand on Sunday said the death toll could rise, with the one minister telling Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman that the number could be up to 5,000
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that 34,000 people have been evacuated so far but 50,000 were still stranded in the region. The BBC reports that the number still stranded is 7,000.
Bad Weather Hampering Rescue-efforts
Rescue efforts continue where possible, although some bad weather is hampering the operations. On Sunday 23rd June, dense fog meant that visibility was too low to use the helicopters that have been in operation so far. Helicopter has been one of the best ways to reach the remote locations where roads and bridges have been blocked or washed away by flooding.
While the bad weather remained, rescue operations focused on building makeshift bridges and repairing or clearing road damage. Drones have also been used to locate stranded victims in the most inaccessible regions. But despite the bad weather,and reduced helicopter missions, rescue teams were still able to evacuate 2,000 people during that time. Since the floods first hit, the rescue services had been able to evacuate 80,000 people by road and air, according to Amit Chandola, a state government.
Rescue and Relief Efforts
It is estimated that over 100 towns and villages are cut off from outside help with some of the villages still under water.
Much of the rescue effort seems to have focused on Kedarnath, the village that had attracted so many pilgrims to the Lord Shiva temple there. Reports claim there were 27,000 people trapped there. Many of those evacuated were taken to Gauchar where a relief centre has been set up for the victims. Many people there have been separated from their fellow travellers – friends or family -during the floods and rescue operations. They remain in Gauchar waiting for news of their loved ones.
36 helicopters and 7 aircraft have been used in the rescue and relief operations. Helicopters have been evacuating the weak and vulnerable where possible, but also taking rescue equipment, medical and food supplies as well as personnel to rescue centres close to the affected areas. However, the helicopters can only evacuate 4 or 5 people at a time. Clearly with so many stranded, it will take a long time to evacuate everyone this way. Demonstrations by relatives of missing or stranded victims took place in Dehradun, the location of one of the relief camps, with people complaining that rescue efforts were taking too long. There are also issues that food and drinking water was in short supply for many of those still stranded.
With much of the media attention (rightly) on the efforts of the Army, Air force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and National Disaster Relief Force, one overlooked but essential piece of the rescue effort has come from Indian Railways and Muradabad Railway Division of Northern Railway which runs most of the network in Uttarakhand. Special evacuation trains have been running to help move those affected by the floods out of the danger zones and to safe areas. These trains have been running since 20th June, with around 2 or 3 trains per day. It is understood that the evacuation trains will continue to run as long as necessary.
After the chaos and destruction caused by the flooding and landslides in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, many hydro power generating companies in the area have had to stop operations. The Dhauliganga Power Station, run by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation was flooded on 17th June 2013 and operations have yet to start up again. Another major reason for the stalling in hydro power generation is the high silt content in the water after the raging floods. Many of the areas affected by the floods are without power and communication lines, as well as being cut off by blocked roads and broken bridges.