iconimg Monday, May 25, 2015

Gaurav Bisht , Hindustan Times
Shimla, June 20, 2013
Relief and rescue operations started by the Himachal Pradesh government to evacuate people stranded in Kinnaur district were hit after Air Force helicopters ran short of fuel.

As many as 500 people, including foreign tourists, are still stranded in various parts of the district.

The two Army helicopters, which were pressed into service, remained grounded on Monday owing to fuel shortage, even as people waited relentlessly on helipads at Sangla, Reckon Peo and Kalpa villages. Both the choppers could not take off from the Annandale helipad in Shimla.

As many as 100 people kept waiting at the Sangla helipad on Wednesday. People were infuriated as the government officials did not inform them about the cancellation of flights.

"We had a harrowing time. I had to wait for 11 hours at the helipad without water and food," Valentina, a visitor from Croatia, told the Hindustan Times over phone.

Valentina had come to Sangla on Saturday along with a friend. A similar situation was witnessed at helipads in Pooh, Kalpa and Peo. Around 100 foreign tourists were still stranded in different parts of Kinnaur.

"Around 4,000 sheep are stuck in higher reaches of Kinnaur," commandant of the National Disaster Response Force Jaideep Singh told HT on phone from Pangi village.

Even as the stranded persons faced harrowing time at helipads, they appreciated the hospitality extended by locals.

"There has been no instance of overcharging, while many shops are running short of stocks," said a government official stranded in Sangla.

Struggling to take forward the rescue operations, the government held a high-level meeting in Shimla.

"As many as 400 to 500 people are still stranded in different parts of Kinnaur and 69 people were airlifted on Wednesday to Rampur. In all, 278 people have been airlifted since Tuesday," chief secretary Sudipto Roy said.

"We have directed the Indian Oil authorities and other agencies to ensure availability of aviation fuel and asked them to stock sufficient quantity of fuel," he added.

The government directed that the schedule of the sorties involved in evacuation should be strictly followed on the basis of registration and the ill, weak, elderly, students and children should be given preference.

Besides, the government directed the public works department to undertake road restoration work on war footing.

To speed up relief work, the government deputed three HAS officers in affected areas. The government also released a grant of Rs. 10 crore for relief and restoration work.

"So far, 14 deaths have been reported; more than 150 houses have been fully damaged and 55 houses have been partially damage," Roy added.

Brig SK Kataria, chief engineer, Project Deepak, said assistance was being sought from private hydel projects in terms of men and machinery to restore the Indo-Tibetan Border Road. He said logistics were being arranged from the Chandigarh Western Command Headquarters and task force deployed on the Manali-Sarchu highway. He said endeavours were afoot to open the main highway within a week.