Thousands are feared dead as floods and landslides, triggered by early monsoons last weekend, hit India’s Himalayan region.
“[In] Govindghat, 250-300 vehicles were washed away. There is a lot of loss of life and property. … I went there and vehicles were still flowing in the river. The situation was very bad,” said Ashish Negi, a local journalist in a telephone interview.
The devastated region is home to Chardham, four famous Hindu shrines, that attract large numbers of pilgrims, many of whom have now been stranded.
Govindghat is a Himalayan town at an altitude of 6,000 feet and is located at the confluence of the Alaknanda and Lakshman Ganges rivers. It is the starting point for trekking to the Hemkund Sahib shrine and the Valley of Flowers, a national park famous for its endemic alpine flower meadows.
Rescue operations by the Indian army are the largest ever. Soldiers are being air-dropped to the affected regions. Food packets are also being dropped.
Reports say that the army has been able to rescue 11,000 people so far, but 62,000 people still remain cut off. According to local media reports rescue workers have been unable to reach eight villages that they fear have been washed away in the weekend floods.
Authorities have already said that pilgrimages to the shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath in the region will take three years before they can be completed due to the extensive damage.
According to a report by the Indo Asian News Service (IANS) officials of the two shrines said that the two pilgrimage towns have been so badly devastated that there was nothing “but mud, devastation and death” around the temples visited by millions.”
Joshimath city, located at 6150 feet and the gateway to several pilgrim shrines, has turned into a rescue station with helicopters flying to and fro rescuing people stranded in the area. Buses are helping those rescued to reach safer locations, mostly to the town of Rishikesh, located around 160 miles downhill.
The road between Joshimath and Rishikesh was cleared by authorities after being cut off due to landslides allowing people to leave the devastated areas.
“10,000 to 15,000 people are stranded in Badrinath. Twenty kilometers [14 miles] away from here at Hemkund Sahib, 10 to 15 hotels and many vehicles were washed away in a cloud burst,” said Kapil Jain, a worker at the National Thermal Power Corporation hydro power project at Joshimath in a telephone interview.
”For the past one and a half years we have been working on Tapovan Vishnugad 520MW Hydro Power Project in Joshimath town. The barrage is completely washed away,” said Jain. A barrage is a man-made barrier in s stream, river to deepen the water or channel it for irrigation.
According to Jain the weather at Joshimath looked normal on Thursday with clear skies.
“There are lots of army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel (ITBP) around doing rescue operations,” said Jain.
A report by Indian broadcaster NDTV said that 45 army and air force choppers are being used to airlift and help stranded people. Around 8,500 soldiers are helping the country’s National Disaster Response Force and ITBP personnel with the rescue efforts.
India’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Indian national and Uttarakhand state government to spare no efforts to rescue people. The court has also asked the government to submit a report on its efforts by June 25.