At least 10 people are believed dead after a jeep fell into a gorge as rains continued to lash the hill state of Uttarakhand on Saturday night, taking the death toll from the rains up to 25.
The heavy rainfall from a cloudburst triggered landslides, blocking roadways and burying settlements. Official sources said the jeep fell into a 500m deep gorge when the driver was trying to negotiate a damaged road, killing most on board.
The district administration received information of the accident only around 5 am on Sunday though it occurred around 11:30 pm the night before. Local villagers from the nearby Khunna village, 180 kms from state headquarters, had already begun rescue operations by the time officials reached the scene.
Police said the jeep was carrying 14 passengers, two of who were injured and rushed to the nearest hospital in Vikasnagar. Two of the others were missing while the remaining passengers are dead.
The rains have wreaked havoc in the state with landslides and swelling rivers sweeping away villages, bringing normal life to a standstill in the past 72 hours. The death toll is expected to rise from the two dozen found so far, especially in Pithoragarh and Chamoli, the worst affected districts.
In many areas, rivers were close to breaching their danger mark by Sunday morning.
The National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Fund, Army, Indo Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal, the state police and the revenue department teams have been pressed into rescue operations though the weather has been hampering it.
Pithoragarh district magistrate, HC Semwal, said rescue teams have been working to open the road connecting Kanalicheena in the Didihat area. Villagers in Dhumakot area say that more than 20 people could still be trapped in the debris of the landslide, Semwal added.
Chief minister Harish Rawat said the state had mobilised relief works and were monitoring the situation. He further announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to families of the deceased.
“We are using whatever facilities at our disposal to work swiftly and effectively. Choppers are ready, medical teams have been deployed. Long distance communication is a bit of an issue and we have spoken to the Centre for licenses for satellite phone. We have asked for free of cost, free of service charge wireless license,” Rawat said.
Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday morning took stock of the situation. As per Surendra Kumar, spokesperson for Rawat, the Congress president expressed satisfaction on the rescue works going on in the state.
When the rains first fell on July 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his solidarity.
“I am grieved by the loss of lives caused due to cloudburst and heavy rain in parts of Uttarakhand. Condolences to bereaved families,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, Rishikesh-Badrinath national highway is still blocked at some places.
The Gangotri and Yamunotri national highways have also been disrupted at several places in Uttarakashi district.
The Border Roads Organisation and the Public Works Department have been working on war footing to reopen all three yatra routes.
Stating that incidents of cloudbursts were likely to increase due to climate change, minister of state for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar said the government is working on plan of action to tackle these natural eventualities. Expressing grief over the loss of lives in Uttarakhand, he added that around 27 research projects have been initiated on the Himalayan mountain range.
Meanwhile, a special Uttarakhand Assembly session slated for July 4-5 has been pushed to later in the month.
(With inputs from agencies)