As thousands of soldiers battled to reach towns and villages cut off by rains and floods in Uttarakhand, state government officials informed the Centre that casualties might run into thousands.
The Kedarnath Temple is pictured amid flood destruction in the holy Hindu town of Kedarnath, located in Rudraprayag district in Uttarakhand. AFP
The scale of destruction is such that chief executive officer of Badrinath-Kedarnath Temple Committee BD Singh ruled out resumption of the pilgrimage to shrines in the next three years.
"What we are seeing is very painful and unbelievable," he said.
Uttarakhand State Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre has written to the Union home ministry that since about 90 dharamashalas (rest houses for pilgrims) have been swept away in the flash floods, the death toll, currently stated to be 150, may rise steeply.
As many as 22 helicopters and close to 10,000 soldiers concentrated their rescue efforts on Kedarnath shrine and its adjoining areas in Rudraprayag district, the worst hit. Most of the rest houses feared swept away were in this area.
Though more than 15,000 people stranded in Kedarnath and Govindghat on way to Hemkund Sahib were evacuated to Joshimath relief camps, over 50,000 people are still stranded in various areas.
"Scores of villages submerged under water cannot be tracked. Hence there is uncertainty about the casualties," inspector general of police RS Meena said.
Survivors have told the media that stranded people were facing shortage of food and water and many were in dire need of medicines.
"One can't imagine what the situation is like," said a pilgrim from Basti in Uttar Pradesh who was rescued by a private chopper. To bring back his family of five, he said, he had to cough up R11 lakh on touch down at Dehradun.
"People are fleecing others, without showing compassion," he said.
(With agency inputs)