LEH: Twenty bodies were on Saturday pulled out from slush and debris in Leh town ravaged by flash floods, raising the toll to 132 even as rescuers intensified operations in the high altitude terrain to search for 600 missing people.
Six Indian Air Force aircraft carrying relief material, rescue workers and doctors landed here to provide succour to the people of the region affected by Thursday night’s cloudbursts and freak rains.
“We have recovered 132 bodies so far and at least 370 are injured. The number of missing is being ascertained,” the state police chief, Mr Kuldeep Khoda said, adding the toll may go up.
Sources fear that the death toll could cross over 500 as several remote villages were yet to be accessed by rescue teams. Thousands were left homeless.
A small village before Choglumsur, which bore the brunt of the incessant rains, was completely wiped out as rescue workers were looking for survivors in the mud slush and debris.
Gushing waters flattened houses, tossed cars and buses leaving behind a trail of death and destruction. People hit by the flash floods were still coming to grips with the catastrophe.
Rescuers waded through knee-deep mud to extricate people trapped under debris of collapsed buildings.
Relief material, including blankets, dry food material, medicine and other immediate requirements of the affected people landed here, a defence spokesman said.
A contractor told senior state administration officials that 150 labourers employed by him were missing from Shyong village where he had lodged them. The colony was set up along Indus river and the officials feared that many huts would have been washed away in the flash floods.
“The Indo Tibetan Border Police has retrieved 30 dead bodies. We have rescued 100 victims from under the debris today. Three relief camps have also been opened up since yesterday,” the ITBP spokesperson, Mr Deepak Pandey said.
The General Reserve Engineering Force and the ITBP are plugging the breaches on Leh Highway, he said.
The Army has been asked to give an account of local and outstation labourers.
Authorities said the Army had suffered losses in Turtuk area. Some of the villages along the Chang La pass, world’s second highest motorable road, were also believed to have been washed away in the torrential rains.
The Union minister, Mr Farooq Abdullah reached the area on Saturday morning from Kashmir. Later two of his cabinet colleagues – Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mr Prithviraj Chavan — also reached here after making an earlier unsuccessful attempt to land.
The Union home secretary, Mr G K Pillai said in New Delhi that five to six civilian flights are likely to take off for Leh on Sunday to bring back people, including foreign tourists, stranded there.
Satellite telecom equipment is being flown here to restore the mobile and telephone connectivity in the city and adjoining areas, where communication services have snapped.
“The Tri-service Disaster Management Coordination Group today decided to send special service aircraft to carry 19 VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminals) and other equipment of BSNL to Leh so that mobile and telecom connectivity could be restored there,” a defence ministry official said.
The Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah had on Friday visited the affected areas and made an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
The Army spokesman, Colonel J S Brar told PTI that rescue operations which had slowed down due to heavy rains have picked up again.
“Among the injured, 300 have been treated… The other injured are treated in Army hospital. The 31 Army jawans missing haven’t still been located. We found a body,” he said.
Labourers from Chhattisgarh working mainly in projects of the Border Roads Organisation and various other infrastructure development programmes are among the survivors.
“Of the over 400 injured survivors admitted to the Army General Hospital here for treatment, around 70 are from Chhattisgarh,” Army officials said.
Three JCOs and 30 other ranks of the 15th Battalion of the Bihar Regiment are also still missing and operations were on to trace them.
The defence spokesman said adequate number of aircraft and helicopters were available at Kargil, Chandigarh and Udhampur to move to Leh.
The Indian Air Force has opened a disaster management cell at Chandigarh, comprising three senior officers including medical officers.
DRDO scientist and Disaster response team member, Mr W Selvamurthy said, “After the cloudburst last night, there were heavy rains and water in large quantities flooded low-lying areas of the city. On our way to the DRDO lab in the area, we could see the devastation.
“This is a very unusual phenomenon in this area because Ladakh is a barren desert. It hardly rains here and five years ago, there was a similar incident on a very small scale,” he said.
“The number of natural disasters has increased in the recent past and this could also be attributed to global warming and climate change. One of the DRDO labs is studying the impact of global warming on high altitude areas,” he added.
Two teams from the health and family welfare ministry comprising specialist doctors and surgeons from Delhi also flew in here.
The IAF has agreed to carry bodies of foreign tourists and non-locals to Delhi by air.
The chief controller (research and development) DRDO, W Selvamurthy, along with a team of experts also arrived here.
Air Force has opened a disaster management cell at Chandigarh, consisting of three senior officers including medical officers.