'No dearth of choppers, fuel is the concern'

New Delhi, June 21 (IANS) Although 45 helicopters have been pressed into service in Uttarakhand for rescue and relief operations, re-fuelling them is the concern, as they have first to be taken to Dehradun for fuelling, a disaster management official here said.

"There are enough choppers. That is not the problem. The real issue is making fuel available for them, that is something that we are looking into carefully," M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) told IANS.

According to rescue operators, the choppers will have to fly to Dehradun to refuel each time, taking at least 45 minutes, and then fly back to areas where rescue operations are underway, like Kedarnath and Guptkashi.

"Usually, fuel is carried via road by tankers. With roads having been washed away, that is not possible," Reddy said.

As India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast more rain in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, there is greater urgency to finish rescue operations before the fresh spell of rain.

"The latest weather report of IMD today (Friday) morning indicated that the weather will stay dry for the next three days. There is forecast of increased rainfall in Uttarakhand and Himachal from June 25. We are trying to evacuate as many people as we can before that, let's see," Reddy said.

He added that although Yamunotri and its surrounding areas are inaccessible, rescue operations are in full swing.

"Till now, 49,814 people have been rescued, according to reports we have received. Out of the 27,040 people trapped in Chamouli district, 25,000 have been evacuated. In Uttarkashi, of 9,850 people trapped, 9,219 people have been evacuated. In Rudraprayag out of 25,000 people, 15,595 have been evacuated."

"As for Kedarnath, many have been rescued, but many are still stranded. We are first evacuating women, children and old people," he said.

He also said that no one anticipated devastation on such a huge scale, even though IMD had forecast heavy rainfall.

"What happened in Uttarakhand is loads of floods. IMD forecast said heavy rain, but no one anticipated such big devastation. Now we are looking at implementing a precise weather forecasting system for the region," Reddy said.

"We know the devastation is big, but in terms of the cost of re-building, construction will be looked into later. As of now, we are just concentrating on rescue operations," Reddy said, when asked about the scale of losses.

The NDMA member said 4,000 Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel, 5,000-6,000 army soldiers, and nearly 500 members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were involved in the rescue operations.

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