NEW DELHI: Four days after a clourburst devastated Uttarakhand, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said nearly 600 people have been dead and over 73,000 people have so far been evacuated from the flood and landslide-hit areas.
Bahuguna said that 556 bodies had been found even as the military and security forces rescued a large number of those stranded in the hills.
"(A total of) 556 bodies have been recovered and there are reports more could be buried under the debris," the chief minister said. "This kind of disaster has never happened in the Himalayan history."
He said it would "take a long time to rebuild Uttarakhand" and that no pilgrimage to Kedarnath would be possible for at least the next two years.
Around 30,000 people were estimated to be stranded in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand, officials said. Rescuers scrambled Saturday to evacuate those who are still trapped as met office predicted rains from June 24.
Home Ministry officials said that efforts have been stepped up to rescue the stranded people. They said around 30,000 people were estimated to be stranded and over 60,000 had been rescued.
Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) spokesperson Deepak K. Pandey said over 9,500 people were still trapped in Kedarnath and the Badrinath region.
He said around 8,000 were estimated to be stranded in Badrinath region.
The army, which has been at the forefront of rescue operation in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, today rescued over 1,000 people in the mountains between Gaurikund and Rambara in Kedarnath.
In Joshimath sector, the army has constructed a temporary bridge across Alaknanda River near Govindghat to facilitate Hemkunt Sahib pilgrims to cross over.
A road link has been opened from Sonprayag to Gaurikund.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has deployed 13 more aircraft for relief and rescue operations. 55 helicopters have been pressed into service for rescue work
The IAF has also deployed its heavy lift MI-26 helicopters for transporting fuel and heavy equipment required by the Boarder Road Organization (BRO) to clear roads closed due to landslide.
With the Meteorological Department warning of more rain and storms from Monday, the various agencies on the ground including the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are operating with urgency.
Special trains are being run, and additional bogies have been added to existing trains to help the pilgrims reach their destinations.
In Haridwar, 40 bodies of those killed in the flash floods and incessant rains were found. The government has warned that the death toll could rise dramatically as flood waters recede and rescue workers reach isolated areas.
Uttarakhand saw over 60 hours of continuous and heavy rains coupled with few incidents of cloudbursts at various locations June 14 to 17, which led to the flooding of the state's main rivers: Alaknanda and Bhagirathi.
Chandragupta Vikram, the VHP's Dehradun president, told IANS that human life was obliterated in Kedarnath "within just 15 minutes".
"There was a huge explosion," Vikram said. "It happened behind the Kedarnath shrine. It turned out to be a cloudburst. Suddenly the place was overwhelmed by water.
"With the water came huge boulders and tonnes of mud. It took just 15 minutes for the destruction at Kedarnath."
A disaster management official said although 45 helicopters were enagaged in rescuing people, re-fuelling was causing concern as they have to fly to Dehradun for fuelling.
The Uttarakhand Government has set up control rooms in all districts. These include: State Emergency and Operation Centre - 0135-2710334, 9897890981, 9152443853; Rudraprayag - 01364-233727, 9412914875 and 8859504022; Nainital - 05942-231179, 9456714092 and Dehradun - 0135-2726066, 9412964935. (Agencies)