With a baggage of dreadful memories of personal losses and a never-ending battle against all odds to survive nature’s fury, over 500 passengers reached Delhi on board a special train from the deluge-hit Uttarakhand. At the (Old) Delhi Railway Station, they told HT about the relief and rescue work. They spoke about relatives and friends who never made it and their battle to survive. This was the third special train from Haridwar to have brought in people from Uttarakhand to Delhi.
‘We survived on horse fodder and biscuits’
It all started with a huge tree levelling a shop and then suddenly, the whole hill came hurtling down, recalled Suresh Dongre. A railway guard in Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district, Dongre had gone to Kedarnath in a group of 23 people. Two of them never made it back.
“We were on our way back after the darshan. We covered almost 10-11 km before stopping at a place, just two kilometers away form Gauri Kund. We were having tea at a shop and chatting among ourselves when we heard a huge sound. We saw that a huge tree had fallen on a nearby shop which was followed by a massive landslide,” said Dongre.
He said the whole group ran to safety for about 500 metres. But they could not go any further as the road had been blocked by debris and a portion had been washed away by the raging river. “We had narrowly escaped death,” said the 46-year-old railway employee.
Dongre said there were at least 1,000 people marooned at Gauri Kund and for five days there was nobody to help them. “For five days, we lived on horse fodder and the biscuits from the abandoned roadside shops,” he said.
Before the actual rescue started, IAF choppers dropped food packets. “But most of them fell into the water,” he said. On the sixth day, ITBP personnel reached the spot and started rescuing the stranded pilgrims.
A shaken man, Dongre says he would never return to Kedarnath though he would keep praying from the safety of his home.
‘I saw my mother die of cold’
Premlata Chaturvedi, 54, from Amla in Madhya Pradesh, helplessly watched her old mother dying from extreme cold. She had to bury the body in the river after realising that she couldn’t carry it for a proper funeral. “I watched my mother die because of the harsh weather. She was 75, but she was quite healthy. Without proper food and care, she couldn’t survive the harsh terrain. We hired a porter to carry her body downhill, paying him R15,000. But as the rivers downstream kept swelling, we realised we couldn’t carry the body further. We just consigned her into the river,” a choked Chaturvedi told HT.
“There was no food for 10 days, we survived on biscuits. We saw the dance of death from up close. I can say that we are lucky to have come out of that hell,” she added.
‘I am the only survivor in my group’
Having lost his three friends on their trip to Uttarakhand, Anil Rajput is very angry. The 39-year-old chef squarely blames the local administration for poorly managing a disaster of this proportion. “We left home in a group of four. Only I have returned.”
He said several children and senior citizens were swept away by flash floods. “I tried searching my friends everywhere but couldn’t find them. There are still about one lakh people stranded in the hills. I was in Haridwar camp for a day before boarding the special train to Delhi,” said Rajput, a resident of Kanpur.
“Many lives could have been saved but poor management by the administration cost so many lives. I’ve never seen a calamity of such proportions,” he said.
‘parents are missing’
Bijendra Sharma, 36, had gone to Kedarnath in search of his missing parents but returned empty-handed. “I submitted their photos at Jolly Grant hospital in Dehradun and at police stations but there is no trace of them.”