Himachal CM, over 150 tourists airlifted

Shimla, June 18 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh was airlifted Tuesday from Kinnaur where he had been stranded for the past three days after the area was cut off following landslides, an official said here.

Over 150 sick and old tourists were also evacuated. Over 1,200 tourists, mainly from West Bengal, are still stranded in the district.

When the heavy rainfall stopped Tuesday morning, the state government and Indian Air Force (IAF) deployed three choppers to evacuate tourists stranded across Kinnaur.

"The chief minister and his staff were airlifted from Sangla (village)," Deputy Commissioner J.M. Pathania told IANS.

He added that the state-run helicopter was deployed to airlift stranded tourists.

The IAF deployed two choppers for airlifting tourists stranded in Sangla and Rekong Peo, the district headquarters.

At least 150 tourists, most of them sick and old - who were stranded in Sangla, 275 km from Shimla, and Rekong Peo for the past three days - were airlifted, officials said.

Incessant rainfall in the region had triggered massive landslides that blocked the road leading to the picturesque Sangla Valley and other tourist destinations.

Pathania said more sorties would be organised Wednesday.

"Work is on to reopen the road link to the Sangla Valley and other major roads. Over 1,200 tourists are still stranded across the district, mainly in Sangla area," he added.

On restoring road connectivity to Sangla, he said it would five to six days to reopen all major roads in the district.

A high alert has been declared in Kinnaur as over 60 percent of the district has been badly hit by heavy rain. Some areas in Pooh experienced snow.

Officials said nine people have been killed, including five members of a family, in various landslide and rain-related incidents in the district since Sunday.

Legislator Jagat Singh Negi said the maximum damage to the property - both government and private - in the district was reported from the Pooh block due to snow.

"The government has released Rs.3.5 crore as calamity relief fund," he added.

The Hindustan-Tibet road leading to the China border along Kinnaur is blocked at several locations, said officials.

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