Monday, 24 June 2013

Uttarakhand begins grim task of mass cremation of the dead, minor landslides delay rescue

As expected, air rescue operations have been stuck in parts of Uttarakhand following bad weather with two minor landslides taking place today between Rudraprayag and Guptakashi road causing immense problems for rescue workers.

Further landslides and flooding in the districts can be a real threat, said army officials adding that ground operations are however in process. Reports claim that two minor landslides have occurred today between Rudraprayag and Guptakashi road and another one was reported from the Rishikesh- Uttarkashi route, said the officials. Rescue workers are battling to carry out the remaining operation as bulldozers have been put into service to clear the route.

Army says it could possibly evacuate another 4,500 people from Badrinath including pilgrims, locals and temple employees. The army is waiting for the weather to improve and once it improves will speed up the air operations, said Ajay Chadha,DG,ITBP.

Military helicopters have been grounded because of bad weather, suspending the evacuation by air of those still stranded, many without food and water, in remote areas of the state, known as the "Land of the Gods" for its revered Hindu shrines. "We can only use the helicopters when the weather is clear. Rescue work can only resume when rains stop," said a senior army official in New Delhi.

Helicopters and thousands of soldiers have been deployed to help with the rescue efforts, with thousands of people already evacuated since the rains hit on June 15. Soldiers along with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have been using harnesses and erecting rope bridges across flooded rivers as part of efforts to move people to safety. Raging rivers have swept away houses, buildings and even entire villages in the state, which was packed with travellers in what is a peak tourist season. More than 1,000 bridges have been damaged along with roads, cutting off hard-hit villages and towns.

Around 120 bodies were recovered from the Kedarnath temple area on Sunday and more were feared to be lying in a nearby jungle where tourists took refuge after hotels and other buildings collapsed in the deluge, officials have said. In the adjacent state of Himachal Pradesh, 20 people have also been killed. Floods and landslides from monsoon rains have also struck neighbouring Nepal, leaving at least 39 people dead, according to the government in Kathmandu.

The monsoon, which covers the subcontinent from June to September, usually brings some flooding. But the heavy rains arrived early this year, catching many by surprise and exposing a lack of preparedness.

Director of meteorological department Anand Sharma was quoted saying medium range of 30-40 mm of rains is expected in Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag areas. As soon as the sky clears up, rescue choppers will start carrying out rescue operations, said Mr Sharma.

Up to 1,000 people are feared dead and more than 8,000 mainly pilgrims and tourists are still awaiting rescue nine days after flash floods and landslides caused by torrential monsoon rains hit the state of Uttarakhand.

The temple town of Kedarnath is likely to witness the cremation of bodies that lay in and around the temple. Officials declared further delay in the funeral of the bodies might lead to their decomposing. Authorities confirmed that before performing last rites, DNA samples would be taken and bodies would be photographed.

We want to start the funerals today in Kedarnath provided the weather permits amid concerns of an outbreak of disease from rotting bodies, officials said. The priests of temples have been requested to participate in the final rites," Pandey said. All concerned authorities have been asked to make arrangements," a senior state government official told PTI.

50 tonnes of wood and a large quantity of desi ghee have been arranged to conduct the heart-rending last rites, said officials of the Garhwal administration adding that ‘Van Nigam’(Forest Corporation) and other agencies have been informed to collect as much fire wood and logs and arrange cans of ghee from the open market.

As soon as the weather clears, funeral will take place today and all concerned authorities have been informed to make arrangements, said a senior official from the state government.

Monday 24 June 2013

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DisasterAction: new leaflet on Disaster Victim Identification

The charity DisasterAction has just created a new leaflet in their series When Disaster Strikes, called Disaster Victim Identification: Relatives' Experiences. The leaflet is written in DisasterAction's members' own words and shows their experience of the identification of family members after disaster. It will help emergency responders involved in this difficult work to understand the impact on families of the seemingly impersonal processes and procedures, and inspire them to be as sensitive as possible when working with families.

The leaflet can be found here

Disaster Action is a charity, founded in 1991 by survivors and bereaved people from UK and overseas disasters. Living all round the UK, our members have personal experience of 27 disasters, including rail, air and maritime as well as natural disasters and terrorist attacks in the UK and overseas. We came together to help create a health and safety culture in which disasters are less likely to occur, to offer guidance and support to others who find themselves similarly affected and to raise awareness of the needs of survivors and bereaved.

Monday 24 June 2013

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Kawan Mas salvage operation called off, monument for victims

The operation to refloat the Kawan Mas express boat which capsized at Giam Bungan in the Upper Rajang on May 28 has been called off.

This was announced yesterday by Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu after visiting the scene of the fire that swept through Kampung Datu and Kampung Hilir on Wednesday afternoon.

He told reporters that the salvage operation had to be called off because it was too dangerous for the salvage team to dive into the turbulent water of the Upper Rajang.

He added that a monument would be built at the Bungan rapids to mark the scene of the tragedy and in memory of those died in it.

Meanwhile, Belaga police chief DSP Bakar Sebau Bakar said yesterday the location of the wreckage is now uncertain as it may have drifted further downstream from its last traced position on June 15 which was about 350 metres away from Giam Bungan resting on the riverbed rock at a depth of about 18 metres.

Bakar added the team led by him had continued with their surface search operation and the fate the two passengers still listed as missing, Roslin Jati and Maurice Ajan, had not been officially confirmed.

Although the body of a man found floating near Rumah Lat last Monday has been identified as that of Maurice by his mother the police still have to wait for the result of a DNA test to officially confirm its identity.

Bakar said the post-mortem would only be carried out on June 25 at Bintulu Hospital mortuary as the pathologist in the hospital was currently outstation.

Monday 24 June 2013

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DNA of unidentified Uttarakhand bodies being preserved

The DNA of those who died in calamity-hit Uttarakhand and now cannot be identified is being preserved, with officials saying that many of the bodies have decomposed.

Officials of the state government, with forensic experts, sub divisional magistrates and the police officials have now started an operation to identify dead bodies and in cases where they cannot, preserve their DNA.

The officials reached Gaurikund and Kedarnath and said that some bodies had decomposed and stood no chance of being recognised.

"Things are in a mess, many bodies have been eaten up by dogs, many have decomposed and many are lying buried under the debris, mud and boulders," said an official.

With people and pilgrims stranded at the Kedar valley completely evacuated Sunday, the army and other authorities involved in the rescue would Monday begin to focus on people still caught up in Badrinath and Harsil, officials said.

Officials told IANS that the death toll and trail of devastation would now become more harrowing as rescuers spend their energy on fishing out the dead from the Kedar valley and the nearby areas.

"Dozens of villages, several vehicle parking lots where cars were parked with the drivers inside have been washed away in the torrential rains...there must be hundreds missing from there," the official said.

A day after Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna feared that 1,000 people might have been killed in the calamity, the state's Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya put the death toll at "at least 5,000".

Interacting with reporters at the Jolly Grant airport in the state capital, Arya said: "At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge, we cannot say with surety but the number can go even higher."

People returning to safety from the rain ravaged areas put the number of dead at "many thousands (with) many (who) died of cold, illness, lack of food and water".

Snehil Gupta, a youth who had gone to Kedarnath from Uttarakhand told IANS that he had seen "...people dead on road sides, in jungles and in villages" as he trekked his way to safety on a hill with two of his friends. His car and driver are yet untraced.

Monday 24 June 2013

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Google locates team missing in Uttarakhand

The family of Howrah’s Aneek Chatterjee had all but lost hope of finding him after the Uttarakhand tragedy.

For five days since the cloudburst last Monday, Chatterjee’s relatives had not been able to contact him.

In a desperate attempt, his younger brother Aveek put up the information that Aneek was missing on Google Person Finder, a web application that allows individuals to post and search for the status of people affected by natural or humanitarian disasters. And the good news arrived last evening.

A person named Udayan Ray replied to his query on the Google application yesterday, saying Aneek was alive and had come down to Gangotri along with his teammates.

“He and his teammates are now at Gangotri.… They have come down of (sic) their own. But they are at a fix what to do next. I have talked with Aneek personally today as well some of our friends. They are mentally alert but not physically in that sense…. They need help at the earliest possibility to come back at Rishikesh at least before rain makes havoc again.… Thank you,” read Udayan’s reply.

The Person Finder application, which is available in both Hindi and English, is currently tracking 5,900 records but it keeps increasing every hour. All data entered into the application is publicly available and searchable by anyone.

“I had lost all hope of getting my brother back and we are extremely happy to know he is fine. It’s unbelievable. The reason I put the information on Google Person Finder was to get any sort of information about him. We were desperate,” Aveek said over the phone.

Aneek, who was on his way to Kalindi Pass, was stranded on Swetha glacier for five days without any food. As no help from the government or the rescuers reached, he and his team travelled all the way down to Gangotri.

Hundreds of people from Bengal are still stranded in Uttarakhand. Many of them, like the Chatterjees, have taken to Google Person Finder in desperation.

Hemendranath Chakraborty’s family from Patuli, near Garia, has left a message along with his picture, saying his family members are waiting at the Guptakashi army camp.

Photographs of the missing person, name, physical characteristics, home address and other information can be posted on Google Person Finder.

On clicking the 2013 Uttarakhand Floods page (on the home page), users are re-directed to a fresh page where one can choose between two options: “I’m looking for someone” and “I have information about someone”.

By typing in the name of a person, one can either search for information on him or her or provide it, with details such as where he or she was last seen.

The Uttarakhand police have been posting information about rescued people on the application.

Long search

Sudip Biswas of Jamshedpur had travelled to Hardwar from Dehradun this morning in search of his brother’s in-laws amidst 570 bodies that had reached there on Saturday night. Not finding them, he left for Dehradun only to return to Hardwar at night.

“Around 325 people, rescued from various places, have been admitted to Jolly Grant Hospital near Hardwar. I saw the footage on a national news channel and one of the patients looked like my relative. I am going there to find out,” Biswas said.

Biswas had reached Dehradun on Saturday morning to look for his brother Rahul’s in-laws Monica Biswas and Brajabashi Biswas — residents of Bankura — with whom no contact could be established since June 16.

He went to Rishikesh from there to check some bodies that had reached there on Saturday afternoon. The elderly couple was in Kedarnath when they last spoke to their daughter and son-in-law. Their phones have been switched off since.

“We have been calling the helpline several times every day and also checking the official list of the deceased on the Uttarakhand government’s website. There is no trace of them. My wife has broken down. I have sent my brother there,” Rahul said.

Monday 24 June 2013

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