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Multiple agencies undertaking relief and rescue operations are increasingly getting worried about the imminent spread of diseases and the rotting of bodies in the temple town area as the tragedy is ten days old now.
Truck loads of dry Deodar wood and ghee have been despatched to Kedarnath and efforts were underway to conduct mass ritual cremation of bodies strewn over the premises after their identification, post mortem and DNA preservation formalities, a senior police official said.
With the bodies already beginning to putrefy, the air is laden with a foul stench giving rise to fears of an epidemic outbreak in affected areas.
"Under no circumstances can we allow an outbreak of an epidemic," senior disaster management official KN Pandey told AFP.
"We have reports that many stranded people are suffering from diarrhoea and other ailments and have decided to cremate the corpses near the Kedarnath shrine," he said.
The Union health ministry has deputed a high-level team which will review the public health measures in the state on Wednesday.
The ministry said it was monitoring the situation and has initiated a few steps for relief operations that include posting of three central public health teams in the state.
"Eight additional teams are also kept on standby, ready to move at short notice," a health ministry statement said.
It added that district units of Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), NRHM is conducting health surveillance in all affected districts of the flood-hit state.
"After picking up early warning signals, diarrhoea cases in Haridwar (Alwalpur), Uttarkashi (Udvi) and Rudraprayag (Chandrapuri) have been managed at incipient stage. No outbreak of water borne/food borne/air borne or direct contact diseases has been reported from affected areas," it said.
Besides, a specialist from National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme has been placed with the state government for providing assistance on matters pertaining to vector borne diseases and three teams have been arranged from NIMHANS, Bangalore for providing psycho-social support.
Two specialists each in cardiology, psychiatry and internal medicine have been placed with the state government.
The ministry said the state government has requested to supply specified quantity of 60 drug and non-drug items and three truckloads of such medical supplies have been delivered as an interim measure.
"On the state's request, 10 lakh chlorine tablets are being procured by MOHFW," the ministry said.
The Indian Red Cross Society has provided 7 truckloads of relief material that includes tents, family packs, kitchen sets, blankets, lanterns.
The ministry said 1,100 bags for carrying bodies have been arranged through it and additional 500 bags procured by the ministry have also been sent.
The Red Cross has deployed teams from Delhi to Uttarkashi and Pittoragarh while another high-level team from the headquarters has also visited the state for assessment and coordinating relief work with state Red Cross unit.
Mass cremation delayed
Mass cremation of bodies of hundreds of people killed in floods and landslides in Uttarakhand was delayed on Tuesday, as heavy rains hampered rescue operations for the second day.
The death toll rose to 822 with 142 bodies being found, including 127 in Kedarnath, the epicentre of destruction, officials said.
With rescue operations being disrupted by cloudbursts coupled with torrential rains, IAF flew lesser sorties on Tuesday and evacuated about 500 people including 120 from Badrinath. The 500 people earlier rescued from the Himalayan shrine were safely brought from the upper reaches to Joshemath by road, a distance of 44 km.
The IAF, Army and Uttarakhand administration launched a massive operation to send logistics like firewood and fuel for conducting last rites of those killed in the worst-hit Kedarnath Valley.
State DGP Satyabrat Bansal said the DNA of unidentified bodies were being preserved and it is hoped that the weather clearns on Wednesday to facilitate the cremation.
There were also reports of fresh cloudburst in Devprayag and heavy downpour in Augustya Muni in Rudraprayag.
With rain hampering rescue operations from Badrinath where the majority of pilgrims remain stranded, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna appealed to their relatives not to run out of patience, saying they are safe with enough supplies of food and and medicines made available to them.
In Patna, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said that he had asked the Uttarakhand government not to allow any VIP to land in the flood-ravaged areas to avoid any disturbance to relief work.
Foggy and overcast conditions in Dehradun had delayed take off by choppers at Sahasradhara helipad and Jolly Grant Airport but air rescue operations resumed with improvement in the weather.
The IAF also landed its first big helicopter in the difficult Kedarnath area and dropped material needed for the mass funeral.
"No survivor remains in the jungles around Kedarnath. They have all been brought out," Ravinath Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Rudraprayag district, said in Guptkashi.
As rescue operations get stretched in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, the ITBP today decided to send in a fresh contingent of its troops and bring out those tired and exhausted.
The paramilitary force, according to sources, is replacing close to 45 men with an equal strength in the areas of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Harshil and Gaurikund.
In Himachal, about 100 people including tourists and sick persons were evacuated from Sangla, Hamgo, Rekong Peo and other places in the rain-ravaged tribal district of Kinnaur by state and IAF choppers.
60 people, including some sick persons were airlifted from Sangla Valley to Rampur while nine sick people were evacuated from Hango. About a dozen people were airlifted from Rekong Peo.
Rescue operations continue
Rescuers on Tuesday evacuated 2,403 pilgrims stranded in the mountainous regions of flood-hit Uttarakhand even as 19 persons, including IAF and paramilitary personnel, were feared killed in a chopper crash near Gaurikund.
Nearly 8,000 persons are still stranded - most of them at Harsil and Badrinath - as rescue operations continued full swing with Border Roads Organisation completing construction of a bridge at Pandukeshwar which would facilitate evacuation of those stuck at Badrinath.
Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth reviewed the rescue operations at a meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee which was attended by secretaries of 10 ministries concerned as well as senior officers of the Army, Air Force, ITBP, NDRF and BRO who have been involved in rescue efforts.
Braving inclement weather, the Indian Air Force conducted 53 sorties to air evacuate 535 persons stranded at various places in the flood-hit areas.
The IAF lost one Mi-17 V5 helicopter in a crash during the rescue operations in Gaurikund in which 19 persons, including officers of the Air Force, were feared killed.
The Army was able to evacuate through the land route 895 persons from Badrinath and 338 from Harsil areas while the Indo-Tibetan Border Police evacuated 600 persons on the land route from the Badrinath.
The National Disaster Response Force evacuated 35 persons most of whom were sadhus and porters from the Kedarnath and other areas.
BRO personnel were engaged in clearing roads landslides that have occurred in the region since yesterday.
The route from Rudraprayag to Uttarkashi has been cleared as well as the sector from Rishikesh to Srinagar and Joshimath.
"A bridge at Pandukeshwar is almost complete. This will facilitate evacuation of those stranded in Badrinath," an official release said.
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry has despatched over 42,000 LPG cylinders to the affected areas and was ensuring enough stocks of ATF at Gauchar and Dharasu for use by the IAF for carrying out rescue operations.
BSNL services in the state were almost normal with the restoration of most of the towers and the telephone exchanges.
Private telecom operators have been asked to expedite their work so that their services could also be restored at the earliest.
The Health Ministry has despatched four teams from NIMHANS to help the state government with counselling and related activities.