Gauchar/Guptkashi: With the weather clearing a bit and a threat of epidemic looming large, mass cremation of bodies of people killed in the rain fury in Uttarakhand finally began in Kedarnath today, even as 3,500 people waited to be rescued 11 days after the disaster.
As 1,000 more stranded people were evacuated from Badrinath and Harshil sectors by air and road routes in rain and fog, IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne on a morale boosting mission to Uttarakhand after the IAF chopper crash pledged to continue with rescue efforts and hopes to wrap it up in the next few days.
"The cremation of bodies in Kedarnath which was being put off again and again for the past two days due to bad weather was finally taken up this afternoon, " IAS officer Ravinath Raman told PTI from Guptkashi. The temple town of Kedarnath was the epicentre of destruction.
However, the number of bodies cremated were not immediately known.
Around 3,500 people are still waiting to be evacuated from Harsil and Badrinath areas, an Army release said. Around one lakh stranded people have been rescued so far since the disaster struck the hill state on June 15.
Browne said if the IAF, which is part of the multi-agency operations that also included the Army, ITBP and NDMA, got three to four days of good weather, it will be able to complete its mission.
"If the weather starts improving by Friday or so, then by Monday, Tuesday we should have all this (task) finished," he said. "We are over the hill", he told reporters in Gauchar, the forward base for the rescue choppers.
"...The operations are going to continue. In fact, most of the work has already been done. It is now a question of getting the people out from Badrinath and the Harsil sector," he said, adding, "Our rotors will not stop churning. That means, we will continue with the job till get the people out."
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said people stranded in Harsil and Badrinath areas would be rescued in the next two days if the weather remains conducive to flights and all steps were being taken to prevent epidemic outbreak in the flood-affected regions.
Vice Chairman of NDMA M Sashidhar Reddy said there is high possibility of the death toll climbing up. "There are 10 feet high debris in Kedarnath and we fear that several bodies are trapped," he said.
Reddy also said that nearly 350 people continue to remain untraceable, raising fears that all of them are dead.
According to official figures, so far 822 people lost their lives following the natural disaster in Uttarakhand.
DGP Satyavrat Bansal said disposal of all the bodies at Kedarnath was an onerous task with a large number of bodies lying underneath tonnes of debris and extricating them would not be easy as heavy equipment like JCBs will be need to be transported to the high altitude shrine for the purpose.
State minister Harak Singh Rawat also saidclearing the shrine area of the debris and the bodies would not be easy.
Till now, Matli, Bhatwari, Maneri have been fully evacuated. In Badrinath, one MI-17 and three Civil Helicopters are in operation for evacuations.More choppers are being kept on stand by but due to inclement weather conditions, rescue operations are being hampered.
With an overcast sky and low visibility at places not coming in the way of air rescue operations, Browne said he was in Uttarakhand to pep up the morale of personnel engaged in rescue operations following the rescue chopper's mishap in which all the 20 personnel on board including the five-member air force crew perished.
Guptkashi SDM Laxmi Raj Chauhan said though there was a slight rainfall this afternoon, there was no fresh landslide in the area.