62,000 still stranded; PM, Sonia to visit Kedarnath

New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) Over 62,000 pilgrims and tourists are still stranded in calamity-hit Uttarakhand while 11,000 have been rescued. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi are to undertake an aerial survey of the extensive damage.

The toll in the havoc caused by the flash foods and cloudbursts stands at 69, union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said Wednesday.

Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chief Sonia Gandhi are to fly to the temple town of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand where the swollen Mandakini river has washed away houses and many people are reported missing, Shinde told reporters.

The prime minister and Congress president were briefed in the morning about the extensive damage caused by heavy monsoon rains, flash floods and cloudburst in Uttarakhand, said Shinde.

"The prime minister and Congress chief are going to do an aerial survey of Kedarnath," he added.

According to Shinde, personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the army have together managed to rescue 11,000 of the stranded pilgrims and tourists in Uttarakhand, the worst hit in the heavy rains.

He said the ITBP has rescued 6,400 pilgrims at Joshimath and put them up in camps.

"Fourteen teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are working in the area," he said.

"Five thousand pilgrims have been rescued by the army, while over 62,000 pilgrims are still stranded in Uttarakhand," the home minister added.

"So far 11,000 stranded pilgrims have been rescued," he said.

While reports point to a toll of over 100, the home minister said he had received a report pointing to 69 deaths.

More helicopters are being pressed into service on the urging of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said Shinde.

While five MI-17 choppers of the Indian Air Force have already been deployed to rescue stranded people, on the prime minister's request 12 more helicopters are being pressed into service, said Shinde.

The Border Roads Organisation has also been deployed as in many places entire stretches of mountain roads have caved in or been washed away, said the home minister.

"The BRO is trying to create pagdandis (pathways)," said the minister.

Food packages are being dropped by choppers in many flooded areas and local doctors have been asked to tend to the people, he added.

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