The Government of Uttarakhand has announced the official death toll of the North India floods at 550 as 40 more bodies were fished out of the Ganges in Haridwar on Friday.
"(A total of) 556 bodies have been recovered and there are reports more could be buried under the debris. This kind of disaster has never happened in the Himalayan history," Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna told IANS.
Rescue operations in Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamuna are still on and more than 33,000 stranded pilgrims have been evacuated. An estimated 15 more days would be required to complete the operations in entirety.
The numbers of choppers were increased to 56 and 200 more paratroopers and divers were put into the rescue mission to meet the June 24 deadline.
Meanwhile, Indian Air Force (IAF) included its Mi-26, heavyweight helicopters for heavy duty work like 'transporting fuel and heavy equipment required by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to clear roads closed due to landslide and also set up an airbridge in one affected area to pull out stranded persons.'
However, the operations are racing against time as Meteorological Department has forecast heavy rains on Monday, giving the rescue teams only Saturday and Sunday (June 22-23) at hand.
The next 48 hours is going to be most crucial for the rescue team as thousands still lie trapped and unreachable.
Meanwhile, for the stranded many, relief came in the face of the locals who provided food and shelter to the starved and cold tourists.
Dattaray Gaikwad, who trekked down with his family from Sonprayag after being stuck for three days, told Daily News Analysis, "When we came down we saw that the few lodges that were intact were operating at four times their capacity. Many offered shelter free of cost. Those people whose phone lines were working let people use them. They also offered water and dry snacks."
Madhav More, who was rescued from Kedarnath and made to move to a safer Gaurikund said, "As we reached Gaurikund, a hotel owner, who had lost everything in the floods, told us to stay in his house at Rampur and we were safe."
On Saturday, as Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde reached the hilly state to assess the situation, said that 1,751 houses, 147 bridges and 1307 roads have been damaged in the floods. He added that 73, 000 people have been taken to safety so far and an additional 30,000-32,000 still stranded.
He hit out at the critics who pointed the disaster as man-made. "I don't think it is a man-made disaster. There have been two cloud bursts. How can that be called a man-made disaster," Firspost quoted him as saying.
On the other hand, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said the North India Floods 'has the proportions of a national tragedy'. However,Information and Brodcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters "The need of the hour now is not to debate whether the disaster can be classified as a 'man-made disaster' or 'national calamity' but to ensure that every stranded person is rescued and gets back home."
Haridwar: 09760534054, 09760534055 Dehradun : 01352-622131
Rishikesh: 01352-434167 Uttarkashi: 01374-226126, 226161
Chamoli: 01372-251437 Tehri: 01376-233433 Rudraprayag: 01732-1077
ITBP helpline, control room: 011-24362892, 9968383478
Army medical emergency helpline: 18001805558, 18004190282, 8009833388
Uttarakhand Helpline numbers: 0135-2710334, 2710335, 2710233