Over 5,700 missing; Uttarakhand still counting losses
 Source : IANS  Date : 15-Jul-2013

Uttarakhand Devastation

Dehradun, July 15 : Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna Monday said that over 5,700 people are still missing. But,even a month after a cloudburst and flash floods unleashed death and destruction, Uttarakhand administration is still not able to completely count losses, both physical and financial.

"A total of 5,748 people are still missing in the flood, including tourists and pilgrims who came from other states," Bahuguna told reporters.

"The state cabinet has decided to give monetary compensation to the families of those who are still missing. Distribution of the compensation will be started tomorrow (Tuesday)," he said.

The chief minister said the government has received the list of missing people from various other states.

The Uttarakhand government will give Rs.1.5 lakh each for every dead and missing person, in addition to the Rs.3.5 lakh compensation declared by the central government.

"The missing will not be declared dead. Search for them will go on," he added.

Uttarakhand still counting losses

While the government has decided to declare the 5,748 people missing as 'presumed dead', inclement weather and a near paralyzed administration are making the path of recovery, relief and rehabilitation more difficult.

After telling the Supreme Court that Kedarnath is now a "ghost town", the government has begun disbursing compensation to those killed or "missing beyond hopes of coming back", said an official.

So far, the number missing from Uttarakhand is 924 and from other states 4,824. These include the elderly, women, children and young men.

The head of the missing cell, Ajay Kumar Pradyot, said an affidavit form had been drafted for the next of kin of the missing. Once they fill it up, they will get compensation. If a person deemed missing is located, the money will have to be returned. Officials said several bodies are still buried under the slush and rubble in the worst-hit Kedarnath valley and in other places.

Officials conceded to IANS that while communication lines had been restored in most areas barring Kedarnath, hundreds of villages remain cut off and far from the reach of government relief.

"We are trying our best to get things back to normalcy. But the sheer magnitude of the devastation has taken us several years back. It will take time to stabilize our efforts," said a senior official.

The biggest challenges are repair and relaying of thousands of kilometres of mountain roads ripped off in rains, rehauling the infrastructure and normalizing the tourism sector.

In many places in Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi, small roads and footpaths are being rebuilt. Mule tracks being restored to enable ration and other supplies to reach.

The National Institute of Mountaineering is trying to find out walking tracks in the rain-ravaged region.

Hundreds of schools which have several feet of sludge accumulated in the buildings have for now deferred reopening after the summer vacation and trying hard to rebuild and repair the structures.

After an initial war of words between political parties over the alleged failure to heed to warnings of heavy rains and failure to rescue people to safety, an all-party meeting has agreed to expedite relief work.

"The government is making all efforts to ensure that people in need are attended to and life returns to normalcy as soon as possible," says Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna.

Officials are faced with a multitude of other problems.

This include outbreak of water-borne diseases in some areas and the resistance by some in Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri who have refused to leave until the 'kapaat' (doors) of shrines close.

But that will only happen in November.

Hundreds of trucks with relief material are yet to be attended to. The state government has expressed its inability to receive them and send them to the hills.

The government has announced a new development policy which restricts buildings on the river banks and calls for a close monitoring of reckless construction in the hill state.

Timely settling of insurance claims - now to the tune of a whopping Rs. 3,000 crore - is another huge task.

Zonal managers of four government insurance companies met here last week to chalk out a strategy to settle claims. The central finance ministry has asked companies to settle the claims fast.

The tourism sector, the lifeline of the Uttarakhand economy, is in tatters.

Industry leaders say it would take one to two years to bring it back on rails. Central Tourism Minister K. Chiranjeevi has announced a Rs.100 crore relief package for the sector.

But with confidence of the pilgrims from across the country shaken and the infrastructure of the Char Dham Yatra in shambles, it will take a long time for the situation to stabilize.

Machines to dig out buried bodies

Hundreds of bodies and animal carcasses still lie buried under several feet of silt and rubble in the Kedarnath Valley even after a month of the disaster. The authorities will now deploy machines to dig out these remnants.

State Health Minister Surinder Singh Negi told IANS Monday that the state government will use special machines to dig out the bodies buried deep in the debris in the flood-affected areas of the state.

"The machines have already been air-dropped in the Munsiyari area Sunday and will soon be dropped in the Kedar Valley as well," he said. Munsiyari is over 100 km from Kedarnath.

Negi said they have removed almost all the bodies which were lying strewn around on the surface in the aftermath of the floods, but the bodies buried in the silt are difficult to be removed.

"Since it is impossible to dig out all the bodies manually, we are using machines," he said, adding that two machines are being sent to the Kedar Valley.

Negi said inclement weather and a damaged helipad have hindered and delayed the process of airlifting the machines earlier.

"The issue we are facing in Kedarnath is bad weather. One other factor is the helipad is badly damaged and not equipped for landings as of now," the minister said.

To prevent the putrefying bodies from causing infection and spreading disease, the authorities have scattered tonnes of bleaching power in the flood-hit areas and also sprayed disinfectants, including from helicopters.

"We have also provided lakhs of fluoride tablets to people to make their drinking water safe," he said.

Negi said there have been no health issues in the affected areas so far.

"We have made efforts to ensure that there are no outbreaks of diseases," he said, adding that a team of 80 doctors from the central government is camping in the state.