Kedarnath Valley, the temple town which was the epicentre of the Uttarakhand rain fury, was on Sunday cleared of all stranded pilgrims, as rescuers battled rains to evacuate 3,000 more people in the disaster.
According to a PTI report, the death toll is likely to cross 5,000 in
"At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge that inflicted heavy damage on vast tracts of land especially in Kedarnath valley," a PTI report quoted disaster management minister Yashpal Arya as saying at the Jollygrant airport on his return from an aerial survey of the affected areas.
However, Arya trashed reports quoting him saying that he feared the toll was nearly 5,000.
"The enormity of disaster is so big that the toll could be more than the present figure. The picture (on toll) is likely to be more clear in the coming days," Yashpal Arya told Hindustan Times.
The official death toll as of Saturday was put at 680 while chief minister Vijay Bahuguna said the death toll is likely to be around 1,000.
With MeT department warning of adverse weather in the region from Monday, the multi-agency operations raced against time to try to rescue remaining 19,000 stranded people stuck in three areas including Badrinath. Air operations had to be also briefly suspended due to bad weather.
As stepped up rescue operations amid intermittent rains led to evacuation of more than 3,000 pilgrims and tourists out of the stranded 22,000 people.
ITBP jawans also began constructing foot tracks to speed up evacuation work, offering a "silver lining" for the stranded people.
"New tracks for able-bodied men to move on foot are opening up and that is a silver lining," Air Commodore Rajesh Isser, who is also the Task Force Commander for the IAF, said.
He said air operations are now focussed on areas like Gaurikund and Harshil and other places which were untouched.
In stepped up rescue operations by the Army, ITBP and NDRF amid intermittent rains, more than 3,000 people were rescued from different areas, chief secretary Subhash Kumar told reporters.
Kedarnath valley has been totally evacuated while over 3,000 stuck in Badrinath, Junglechatti and Harshil areas were evacuated to safe locations by the security forces today, he said. Scores of dead bodies lay strewn in Kedarnath area.
A joint combing operation by the security forces will be launched in Kedarnath valley on Monday morning to ensure not a single survivor remains stuck in Rudraparayag district.
When asked how many more are yet to be evacuated from Badrinath and nearby areas, the chief secretary said the figure should not be more than 7,000.
With HT, PTI inputs
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