400 tourists still in landslide-hit Kinnaur, says Himachal CM

Shimla, June 20 (IANS) Over 400 tourists are still stranded in landslide-hit Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh said Thursday adding that they will be evacuated in the next two days.

An official statement said the chief minister had instructed officials to evacuate the stranded 400 people within two days.

The chief minister held a meeting of government officials in Mandi town, where he was touring ahead of the June 23 parliamentary by-poll in Mandi constituency, to take stock of the situation after Kinnaur was ravaged by rain that began last weekend.

Meanwhile, the state government and the Indian Air Force Thursday stepped up rescue efforts and airlifting of tourists stranded for the past five days.

"Since 6.30 in the morning, three choppers have been on the job. So far, over 200 tourists have been airlifted," Special Secretary (Revenue) Amandeep Garg told IANS.

He said the weather had now cleared and a large number of people, both tourists and local people, were Thursday airlifted from Sangla, Pooh, Kaza, Nako and Rekong Peo, the last town being also the district headquarters.

The IAF has deployed two helicopters, while the state is using the chief minister's official chopper.

Till Wednesday, the government evacuated 279 tourists, mainly the sick and the old and women tourists.

Official sources said tourists, many of them from West Bengal and Punjab, were stranded across the district, mainly in the Sangla Valley and Pooh.

The statement, quoting the chief minister, said heavy damage was reported in various parts of the state due to incessant rains, landslides and snow, particularly in remote Kinnaur, where maximum loss of life, damage to roads and property had been reported in the state.

Over 300 houses have been damaged as per preliminary reports, though the actual figures might increase. Heavy damage was also reported in horticulture and agriculture sectors and some orchards were completely washed away, it said.

Brig S.K. Kataria, chief engineer, Project Deepak of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), who also attended the meeting, informed the chief minister that roads were badly damaged across Kinnaur.

He said damage assessed between Wangtoo and Pooh revealed that many breaches had occurred on national highway-22 between Wangtoo and Powari.

He said landslides affecting approximately seven km of road length occurred in Kasang and Akpa and about 30 breaches -- totalling about 1.5 km -- have damaged the roads.

He said there were adequate men and machinery deployed to restore the affected roads.

Kataria said the road leading to Rekong Peo would be opened for traffic within three days, while the Tapri-Powari road would be restored by Friday.

Stretches of roads from Wangtoo to Karchham, Pooh to Samdoh and Samdoh-Kaza-Gramphu would be opened by June 22, while the Powari to Kasang stretch would be opened by June 25, he said.

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