New Delhi: Rescue workers have a crucial 48-hour window to evacuate those stranded in the mountains of Uttarakhand as rains are expected to return by Sunday evening.
The India Meteorological Department Director General, who also attended the meeting, said light to moderate rains could commence over western Himalayas from Sunday evening and could increase to rather heavy rains in some areas from June 26.
"We have a 48-hour window and we would do the best we can to evacuate all those stranded," Air Marshal SB Deo told reporters. The Indian Air Force has carried out 241 sorties on Friday of 43 aircraft, including helicopters it has pressed into service for the rescue efforts.

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A massive Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter airlifted a 9,000-liter bowser to the advanced landing ground at Dharasu, about 120 km from Rishikesh. The newly-acquired C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft is expected to land there with its full load of fuel (about 8 tonnes), which will be emptied into the bowser, thus activating the airstrip.  

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"We plan to launch rescue operations from Dharasu after that," Deo said adding the bowser would help refuel the helicopters. The Army Aviation unit has carried out 115 helicopter sorties and managed to reach Gangotri and Pindari glaciers from where it has rescued stranded pilgrims.

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The Air Force has also activated its advanced landing ground in Gauchar near the Kedarnath-Badrinath axis soon after the state government requested it to shift the base of operations further north near the worst-affected areas.
"We have transported a 25-bed hospital using our C-130J aircraft there in Dharasu which can treat over 100 people per day and can run without backup for seven days," WAC Senior Air Staff Officer Air Marshal PS Gill told reporters.

The massive relief operations launched in the aftermath of flash floods triggered by heavy rainfall in the state have succeeded in evacuating 50,000 persons to safer places from the worst-hit districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi.
Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth reviewed the humongous search, rescue and relief operations at a meeting of top officials from the Army, Air Force, ITBP, NDRF and BRO among others.

Railways offer free travel
Railways have pitched in with free travel to enable those rescued to reach their hometowns. It was also operating special trains from Dehradun to Delhi, Ambala and Lucknow to ferry stranded pilgrims and tourists.

Petroleum Ministry has set up aircraft refuelling centres at Rampur, Shimla and Gaucher and efforts were being made to make available LPG cylinders to people in affected areas.

Meanwhile the South Central Railway (SCR) on Friday dispatched a special empty rake consisting of 15 coaches to Haridwar for attaching extra coaches or operating special trains for clearing the pilgrims stranded in Uttarakhand due to heavy rains and floods.

Efforts are on to operationalise mobile towers  
Efforts were also on to operationalise 207 mobile towers of 739 such installations in the three affected districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi. As many as 207 mobile towers in the three districts were knocked down by the fury of the floods.

State-run telecom firm BSNL on Friday said it will restore within three days its mobile towers at places where most of the stranded people are located in flood-hit Uttarakhand.

The Department of Telecom has also issued instructions to all telecom companies that the toll-free public utility emergency numbers must be operational and accessible to customers in affected areas by this evening.

Death toll crosses 550, says CM

The death toll in flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand crossed 550 as rescuers intensified efforts to evacuate 50,000 people still stranded in different inaccessible parts of the hill state.
Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, who gave the updated death toll, said on Friday night that 556 bodies were recovered from under the debris.
"556 bodies have been recovered and there were reports that more could be buried under the debris," Bahuguna told a news channel. Bahuguna also said it will take another 15 days to complete the evacuation, adding "this kind of disaster has never happened in the Himalayan history".
It was not immediately known if the death toll included 40 bodies found floating along the Ganges River near Haridwar.
"40 bodies have been recovered from different points along the Ganga since Thursday evening,” Senior Superintendent of Police in Haridwar Rajeev Swaroop said.
As the terrible magnitude of nature's fury continued to unfold and survivors spoke of untold miseries, the death toll was expected to rise with Uttarakhand Principal Secretary Rakesh Sharma saying casualty figures can be ‘shockingly high’.


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