Flash floods and landslips triggered by the monsoon fury left eight more persons dead, taking the number of people killed in calamity-hit Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to 138 even as 2700 pilgrims and locals were rescued from Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts.
The weather cleared in most places in the north making it easier for rescue personnel to launch operations for those stranded, especially in Badrinath shrine where 12,000 pilgrims are still stuck.
The rain and flood situation in Uttarakhand is quite serious and unprecedented, chief of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) today said in Dehradun.
DG Ajay Chadha said rescue operations will gather pace as the weather has improved today and three battalions of the force (about 3,000 troops) deployed in the state have rescued thousands of people.
"Things are quite unprecedented in Uttarakhand. Situation is grim and quite serious. A number of factors have contributed to this situation like avalanche, cloud burst and continuous rains," Chadha said before leaving for an aerial review of the state along with Union Home Secretary R K Singh and other ministry officials.
Disaster Management authorities said in Chamoli that eight bodies were recovered by villagers late Tuesday evening from Bansinarayan area of Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary.
They seem to have perished on Sunday itself in the downpour that lashed the area while they were in search of Kira Jari, a rare aphrodisiac found in the alpine grassland of the sanctuary.
Chamoli additional district magistrate Sanjay Kumar said 1500 pilgrims and locals have been evacuated so far from Ghanghariya, Duendhar and Pulna from near Hemkund Sahib in the district to Joshimath relief camps.
A view of buildings near the Kedarnath Dham in Uttarakhand before the rains and (right) the devastated area after the incessant rains and floods. HT Photo
With the improvement in weather many more stranded pilgrims are likely to be evacuated to safety by Wednesday evening, he said, adding evacuation of pilgrims from Badrinath is next on their agenda where 12000 persons are still stranded.
1200 persons have also been evacuated from Kedarnath, an official in Rudraprayag said.
The officials said evacuating people to safer places is their priority as recovery of bodies can be taken up later.
A total of 110 people have been killed in Uttarakhand.
Rescue operations were also on in rain-ravaged tribal Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh for the second day on Wednesday and two IAF and one state chopper is evacuating stranded people at various points in Kinnaur district and adjoining Kaza area of Spiti.
About 140 people were rescued on Tuesday from Sangla Valley and Rekong Peo and dropped at Rampur and helicopter sorties have been planned for Pooh and Kaza also.
A large number of people including a Doordarshan team and some other reporters was stranded at Pooh, which received snow and rains on Sunday and Monday and a chopper is being sent to bring them.
"The exact number of people stranded at various locations was not known but priority is to evacuate tourists and the aged and ailing persons first," HP principal secretary (Home), Tarun Sridhar said.
Most of the stranded people from Sangla would be rescued in a day or two and helicopter sorties would continue till the Hindustan-Tibet National Highway, which is blocked at numerous places beyond Tapri due to massive landslides and road breaches.
Though the weather has cleared in the region, the local Met office has predicted more rains from June 22 onwards.
Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh also remained dry during the past 24 hours with no report of fresh rainfall.
The flow of water through Hathni Kund barrage over Yamuna River near Yamuna Nagar had also declined further and was 87,137 cusec at noon today as compared to 1.73 lakh cusec yesterday and a maximum of 8.06 lakh cusec over the weekend.
The discharge is decreasing gradually as there has been no fresh rainfall in the catchment areas.
With rainfall having stopped, revenue department officials were conducting a survey to ascertain the damage caused to crops due to heavy rains in districts of Yamunanagar, Karnal and Panipat.
The water discharge had caused flooding in the Yamuna river in the district, prompting authorities to sound a high alert in the districts of Karnal, Panipat, Sonepat and Faridabad through which the river flows, but the situation improved greatly today.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Sharda was flowing above the red mark at Palia Kalan and directives have been issued to shift people in 44 village of Mahsi area in Bahraich.
According to Central Water Commission sources, water level of Sharda, Rapti, Ghaghra, Burhi Rapti, Rohin and Kuano was constantly on the rise even as Sharda, which had crossed the red mark yesterday, registered one meter rise today.
The Kedarnath Temple is pictured amid flood destruction in Kedarnath, located in Rudraprayag district in Uttarakhand. AFP
A report from Bahraich said that with the release of four lakh cusec water from Nepal at the Banbasa barrage, threat of floods loomed large in the district.
The main link between Haryana and UP, the Khatima-Panipat Highway was cutoff when the bridge over Yamuna at Kairana was closed for traffic after crossing the danger mark in Shamli district today.
This is the first time in 35 years that the Yamuna River has crossed the danger mark at Kairana bridge.
A high alert has been issued in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts as water level in Ganga and Yamuna rivers have crossed the danger marks at Shukertal and Kairana.
UP chief secretary Javed Usmani has directed commissioners and district magistrates of sensitive districts to carry out flood relief and rescue work. A group has been constituted for coordination in emergency situations.
With a large number of bodies, which are trapped in the debris at different places across the state beginning to decay, the threat of an outbreak of epidemic also looms large on the hill state, officials said.
However, there is no reason to panic as teams of doctors from the National Disaster Management Authority have already been sent to the affected areas, they said.
Rudraprayag SDM LN Mishra, who is overseeing rescue operations at Agastya Muni, a place with a population of about 2 lakh in the district, said there will be food crisis if people stranded there are not evacuated within two days.
The famous Kedarnath shrine was virtually submerged in mud and slush where 50 people died in the unprecedented flash floods.
The shrine, one of the four holy dhams, in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand bore the brunt of torrential rains. About 500 people, including several pilgrims, are said to be missing in the area.
Military helicopters carried out emergency food drops on Wednesday for thousands of people stranded by flash flooding from early monsoon rains in north India, officials said.
Thousands of houses have been swept away in the flash floods and authorities are using helicopters to evacuate people and drop essential food supplies.
The death toll may rise significantly once water recedes and relief teams are able to access the affected areas.
A portion of the Kedarnath temple compound was washed away but authorities said no damages were reported to the structure itself.
The Ram Bada area, a busy spot near the temple, has been completely submerged and was not visible from rescue choppers.
Army Central Command officials said that nearly 6,000 to 8,000 people are stranded in Kedarnath, 2,500 in Hemkund Sahib and around 8,000 in Badrinath.
Flash floods, cloudbursts and landslips have so far claimed 131 lives in northern India. Thousands have been displaced in Uttar Pradesh where several rivers are in spate.
(With inputs from AFP, PTI)