M A I N   N E W S

Scramble for flights at Leh
Toll mounts to 150
Ajay Banerjee reports from Ladakh

Leh, August 8
As many as 17 flights, seven of them commercial and the remaining by the IAF, landed at Leh on Sunday, flying out the stranded and bringing in equipment to restore roads, bridges, buildings and communication.

The small airport this morning was mobbed by several hundred labourers who have been rendered homeless and jobless. They demanded that they be air-lifted out of this land locked area where road links have been cut off. Many of them had no money with them as contractors, who have suffered losses, refused to pay them their dues.

In some case the cheques issued by contractors have bounced, a group of labourers said while showing such cheques to the Tribune this afternoon.

This evening the Administration finally asked the labourers not to leave and promised to provide jobs to complete major reconstruction work needed here. The Administration also undertook to provide them shelter and food. The labourers panicked after some of them lost their lives and when contractors refused to pay even their dues, said officials.

Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise. It stood at 150 on Sunday. The missing and the unaccounted are said to be largely labourers who were living in temporary sheds along the Indus or its tributaries. They have been presumably washed away but they cannot be counted among the dead since bodies are yet to be found.

In case of the 33 missing jawans of the Indian Army, the bodies of five of them have been located and they have been identified, sources said.

At least 68 foreigners are still stranded at the ancient monastery of Lamayaru located midway between Leh and Kargil near the Fotula pass. Today eight foreigners, trapped near Batalik 170 kms north from Leh, were rescued. The Army has also prepared a list of 72 foreigners who are trapped near Pang on the Leh-Manali highway. Some of them who are seriously unwell will be air-lifted.

At least 252 Indian tourists are also trapped at the same spot. The Army is providing them shelter and food. Pang is inaccessible by road as two bridges on either side have been washed away. The Army has pressed into service some 6500 troops for rescue. The local lads of the Ladakh scouts are digging through mud to locate dead bodies.

The work to open the strategically vital Kargil-Leh road and also the Leh-Manali highway is being conducted on a war footing. The IAF today flew bridging equipment for the Army and the bridge building is expected to be completed in two weeks.

The Indian Air Force today sent in ten sorties of its transport planes. It flew BSNL equipment this included a satellite receiver to replace the one which has been washed away. This will restore BSNL mobile network. The IAF also flew out 15 dead bodies out of Leh. Taking into account the requirements projected by the Jammu & Kashmir state government, the IAF flew in medical items provided by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, relief material and 5,000 blankets from Delhi.





Town turns into a refugee camp
Tribune News Service

Army personnel dig out a victim’s body
Army personnel dig out a victim’s body on Sunday. — PTI

Leh, August 8
This picturesque Himalayan town popular with tourists has turned into a ghost town and is yet to recover from the ‘dance of death’ unleashed by Mother Nature three days ago. It is now a vast refugee camp for the homeless.

The full extent of the disaster is still unfolding and one has to come here to realise the terrible tragedy that has overtaken the people.

The cloudburst, followed by mudslides on Thursday midnight, is estimated to have rendered 20,000 people homeless across Ladakh. Three days after the cloudburst, 500 people are still missing. Relief workers are yet to venture out to the villages beyond Leh and the figures, they fear, is bound to rise.

One of the most poignant images that emerged during the past two days of rescue operations was the recovery of the body of a woman who apparently died while trying to save her daughter from the mudslide. Their bodies were found buried under the mud in a sitting posture, said Brig Ajay Kumar, Deputy GoC of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Sakma, a local resident, has been searching in vain for relatives for the past three days. But there is no trace of them, he says with moist eyes. The tragedy has devastated thousands of lives and it will take several years for them to recover from the trauma, acknowledge relief workers from the Army and the ITBP.

Every morning, people go to their battered homes to dig out whatever they could and in the evening they return to the camps set up by the Army to have food and spend the night. These families do not know where to go and what to do.

On Sunday also people joined hands to reclaim their household belongings, whatever they could extricate. Brand new TV sets, washing machines and other expensive household gadgets have been destroyed and lie cased in mud. Most of the families here have lost everything including utensils.

The Tibetan refugee settlement located along the Leh-Manali highway was the epicentre of the cloudburst and the mudslide that followed it in the wee hours on August 6.

In a “ghost-town” like scene at Choglamsar, vehicles and bodies are buried under mounds of debris and under piles of mud, slush and boulders. Houses have been blown away, families torn apart and shopkeepers have lost long savings of their lives.

All small settlements near Changa Lal have been wiped out. With winter round the corner, worries of the administration have multiplied manifold. The ex gratia of Rs 1 lakh each to the kin of those killed and Rs 50,000 each to the seriously injured, to be paid from the PM’s National Relief Fund, appears grossly inadequate to kindle any hope of rehabilitation in the hearts of calamity-hit.

Col NJ Singh of the 3rd Infantry Division and the man under whose command Choglamsar is being cleared, says, “It will take at least a few months to clear the debris.” His team was today able to set up one of the washed away bridges on the Leh-Manali road.



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