For hundreds, search for missing family members continues

Haridwar/Rishikesh, July 1 (IANS) Photographs of loved ones taken on happier, merrier occasions, showing a family get-together or celebrations now adorn the walls at relief camps, railway stations and bus stands. For the many hundreds of kin, photographs are the one way to trace their kin still missing even after a fortnight-long rescue and evacuation work carried out in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand.

At the Haridwar railway station, relief camps have been set up by many state governments whose people had come to Uttarakhand for the Char Dham yatra when the rain-flood tragedy struck. Three days continuous rain, from June 14 to 17, coupled with landslides wreaked havoc and devastation in the hills, leaving in its trail many hundreds dead and an as many missing.

While over 100,000 people have been rescued, there are still hundreds who are untraced.

It is same story at the Shanti Kunj complex, the headquarters of the spiritual and social organisation of All World Gayatri Pariwar (AWGP) that was established in 1971, where three states - Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Odisha - have set up relief camps and many of their rescued people are staying in its sprawling complex.

The photo of an elderly woman, sitting with a shy smile alongside her husband, or a family of four, who were photographed at a family function, or a mug size photo of a 40-year-old man - they all tell the story of families torn apart by a force greater than mankind. All of them are missing.

For the anguished families, it has been a hellish 15 days.

Fatigued and looking fragile is Rajkumar Singh from Rajasthan, who is searching for his 50-year-old brother, sister-in-law and their three children.

"I heard from my brother on June 15. Since then, there has been no word on them. I have been to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. But there is nothing. No one has seen or heard them. What will I tell my mother? How will I face her," Singh,45, told an IANS correspondent, wiping his tears.

Similar is the story of Sneha Sharma, 21, who desperately searched in hospitals, police stations and relief camps for her parents, two brothers and two sisters who had gone to Kedarnath shrine.

Carrying photographs of her family, Sharma met an army official, who after seeing her 17-year old sister Jyoti's photograph told her that they have cremated her.

"He told me that they found her body and cremated her. I don't know about the rest of the family members. No one is able to help me out. Where should I go, what should I do," she wailed.

She said if she had been the only survivor in her family she would have killed herself.

But she has to think of a younger sister who is in college.

Laxmikant Sharma, a minister in Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan's cabinet, said they have heard many a horror story of people being trapped and being swept away in the waters.

"A family saw two of its members swept away by the water. They watched in horror. They were mute spectators," Sharma told IANS.

But there were some stories of hope too.

"We met three boys, who were part of a large group of 18 people, coming back alive. They told us that when the first floor of the lodge where they were staying was filled up with water, they went to the second floor. But when the second floor too filled up, they held on to the window grills and saved their lives.

"They were inconsolable. It was difficult for us to make them understand. Their entire families have died," Sharma, who has been leading a group of over 50 state officials for the past 12 days in Uttarakhand to track and rescue the people of their state

He said they have also come across people who walked for two-to-three days and have reached their relief camp in Rishikesh or were picked up on their way from the main road.

"Many people have lost their clothes, their footwear and their vehicles. apart from offering them food, water and medicines, we offer them chappals, soap, toothpaste and tooth brush," Sharma stated.

The scene is the same at the Rishikesh too. Large posters of loved ones can be seen from far off.

The Rishikesh bus stop does not anymore look like a normal bus stand where inter-state buses are parked. While one side of the bus stop wall has been taken over by photographs and posters, the other side has been taken over by the police and by voluntary and religious groups offering people free food, water and medicines.

Searching for his nephew, his wife and their three children is Subhash Chandra Sharma from Ghaziabad.

With puffy eyes, the 45-year-old has looked everywhere for his nephew's family. But when he failed to get any news, he registered a missing persons' report.

"My brother is in a bad state. So I am camping here for the past 12 days. We just hope they are still alive," he said.

Station Officer of Rishikesh Pankaj Pokhiriyal said so far they have registered 794 missing cases.

"We are giving people a simple form and asking them to attach photos too," Pokhriyal told IANS.

Ten years in service, the police officer from Tehri Garhwal said he has never ever seen such devastation.

"I have been born here and spent my entire life. But have never seen such a massive destruction where hundreds have died and hundreds are missing. I think it's God's way of punishing us humans. What else can we call it,' he said.

(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at kavita.d@ians.in)

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