Hemkund Sahib shrine shut, rains lash Uttarakhand

Rishikesh/Lucknow, June 27 (IANS) The Sikh holy shrine at Hemkund Sahib, located 15,200 feet above sea level in Uttarakhad, has been shut for now due to heavy rains, an official said Thursday.

"The road from Tayya bridge leading to Hemkund Sahib is broken at many places. So we decided to shut the shrine for some time," an Uttarakhand official said.

He added that the gurdwara employees have come down to Joshimath, about 35 km away, and would wait for "things to brighten up". The doors of the shrine were shut after offering of prayers.

Hemkund Sahib is a major attraction for Sikh pilgrims in Uttarakhand, a state dotted with revered Hindu shrines.

Meanwhile, rains halted early Thursday and the evacuation of people and pilgrims stranded in the hills resumed in the Badrinath area.

But Chamoli region is experiencing heavy rains since Wednesday evening. Authorities have closed the Chamoli-Joshimath highway owing to landslides.

Officials told IANS that they were forced to halt evacuation in the Patalganga and Pagalnala areas due to heavy rains.

"As of now, there is no way people can come to Joshimath," one official said.

More than 4,000 people are still stranded in the Badrinath area as torrential rains have crippled the rescue and evacuation operations in the past two days.

While thousands were airlifted on clear days, the inclement weather and Tuesday's chopper crash which killed 20 people have slowed down the rescue operations through the air route.

The met department has forecast more rains in the hill state in the next two days. Besides rains, heavy fog in some places is also slowing down the rescue efforts.

"The narrow roads carved out of the hills are very slippery. Therefore, the stranded pilgrims and tourists are not willing to proceed on such roads," the official said.

"Now that most of those stranded have been brought to army relief camps, no one is risking a hasty evacuation to plains. We are waiting for the weather to clear," a senior army officer said.

On Wednesday, army helicopters rescued 45 people in Darma Valley in Dharchula. Of these, 12 pilgrims were airlifted from Aadi Kailash.

Hundreds have died and more than 60,000 people were stranded in the hills after a cloudburst and subsequent humongous floods ravaged Uttarakhand more than 10 days ago, particularly in the Kedarnath and Badrinath areas.

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