New Delhi, June 20: Improvement in weather saw rescue operations in Uttarakhand, the north Indian state hit by one of the biggest natural disaster in recent times, picking up speed. The death toll in the state, which saw extensive damage caused by incessant rainfall leading to flash floods and landslides, has touched 150 but authorities feel that it is likely to exceed 2,000, the casualty figure of the 1991 earthquake in Uttarkashi, located in these parts.
Disaster management officials said the real picture of the casualty will emerge once rescue teams from the army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) reach the affected areas in Kedarnath, Badrinath and Gangotri. They said it was urgent to initiate quick action against people who have been stranded and could falll victim to cold, hunger and wounds.
ITBP officials said they were yet to reach some of the affected places since unprecedented flash floods and landslides were causing hindrances for the rescue work.
The army has deployed about 5,500 personnel while the ITBP pressed 2,000 and the Border Roads Organisation 3,000 personnel into action to quicken the relief process. Thirteen teams of the National Disaster Response Force comprising 300 personnel have also been deployed.
The Indian Air Force has also launched its own operation and has provided one C-130J aircraft, AN-32, Avro and eight MI-17s to carry out the rescue work.
About 10,000 people have been evacuated from the affected areas while several thousands were yet to be rescued. Visit to the famous Kedarnath shrine was stopped for a year in view of the extensive damage caused by the nature's fury.
Defence sources said the army will first rescue the stranded people and then those stuck in Badrinath and Ghaganriya by Thursday. Air evacuation will begin from those places from Friday onwards, they added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday surveyed the extent of the devastation from air. The PM announced a relief package of Rs 1,000 crore for Uttarakhand later. He also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh ach to the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those injured in the tragedy.