Rescue workers turned schools into makeshift shelters and began helping evacuate hundreds of villagers in the upper reaches of Rudraprayag district after almost all the major river in Uttarakhand edged towards their danger mark on Wednesday.
Officials expected water levels of the three major rivers - Alaknanda, Mandakini and Bhagirathi - to rise further as torrential rains continued to slam many parts of the state. While inclement weather had forced the suspension of the Char Dham pilgrimage until Friday, the situation appeared particularly delicate in Rudraprayag where the Mandakini was flowing close to its danger level with a rising trend.
Last year, heavy rains sent the region’s mountain rivers into spate, with the Mandakini smashing through mud embankments, changing course and unleashing huge walls of water, rocks and mud that swept away hundreds of villages and towns, killing some 5,000 people. The unofficial toll was double that number in a disaster that destroyed a major portion of the state’s infrastructure and damaged the revered Kedarnath shrine high in the Himalayas.
Officials said residents of around half a dozen villages living around the catchment areas of the Mandakini in upper Rudraprayag had begun moving to safety. These included Vijay Nagar, Berubagar, Chandrapuri, Silli and two nearby settlements with up to 400 people.
The district administration also ordered local schools shut and converted the buildings into makeshift shelters as part of emergency preparedness. It had also opened special ration counters at Lincholi, Bhimbali, Rambara, Jakholi and Gaurikund to help people stock up.
“It’s almost the same scene here today. Water level in Mandakini has reached nearly at the same level that was seen on the fateful night of June 16-17, 2013,” said Vijaypal Singh Rawat, a resident of Chandrapuri in Guptakashi, referring to last year’s calamitous floods.
“It’s scary but we pray that (the) almighty doesn’t show the same (guise) this time.”
In Rudraprayag, the Alaknanda was flowing just three metres short of the danger mark. Slightly downstream at Srinagar the river had marginally crossed the warning level. Officials in Tehri, Pauri and Dehradun districts have sounded a high alert.
Similarly, the water level of the Bhagarathi was rising consistently at Devprayag as also was that of the river Kali in Pithoragarh and the river Sarayu.
“We are constantly monitoring water level of all major rivers in the state at different sites,” said Harkesh Kumar, Superintending engineer and head of the Central Water Commission’ Dehradun chapter.
“Presently it’s on (the) rise but cannot necessarily be the same for too long. However necessary caution has to be taken.”
Meanwhile, rescue workers in Rudraprayag also helped evacuated about 165 pilgrims after the Kedarnath Yatra was suspended because of massive landslides at many stretches of Rishikesh–Kedarnath NH 109.
In another incident, a temporary bridge on river Saraswati near Kalimath temple that was rebuilt after 2013 disaster collapsed early on Wednesday, cutting off more than a dozen villages from the rest of the state.