M A I N   N E W S

Leh toll may touch 400
Admn faces uphill task of building houses before winter
Ajay Banerjee writes from Ladakh

Army personnel with bodies of jawans recovered on Tuesday.
Army personnel with bodies of jawans recovered on Tuesday. Tribune photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

August 10
With five days already having passed after the cloudburst wreaked havoc in Leh, the frightening magnitude of the flash floods is unfolding slowly with time. While the death toll could mount up to 400, this too a conservative estimate, the administration may not be able to meet its rehabilitation targets before the onset of winters here.

Notably, the civil authorities are slowly realising that the death count could be much more than that declared officially — 166 — on the basis of the bodies recovered. Scores of bodies may never be found as they may have been swept away to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) via Indus or may remain buried under the 15 to 20 feet of mud, with little or no hope of extrication.

Today, the Army recovered the bodies of two jawans of the Supply Corps situated at Nimmu, about 35 km from here. Another four jawans, however, are still missing. But, this is other than the recovery of nine bodies of Army jawans near Turtok, from where another 26 are missing.

Talking to The Tribune, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Minister and local MLA Nawang Rigzin Jora admitted that the death toll could go up to 350-400, but the count of missing persons is still unclear as several labourers, employed in various infrastructure projects, including those on highways along the Indus, did not have any permanent address; they were staying in makeshift accommodations.

Jora, however, dismissed fears that the toll could be as high as 900, as projected by certain bodies, including a few international NGOs, involved in rescue in the area.

Meanwhile, the locals are aghast at the tragedy as new layers unfold every day. Several of the missing have been found buried under boulders that rolled down the hills after the cloudburst on the intervening night of August 5/6. Some of the hamlets are completely under mud, with almost no hopes for survivors.

Food and other essential items are being air-dropped to numerous villages that have been cut off from the rest of the world. Also, the local administration today started a survey to identify how many houses it would have to build to accommodate those rendered homeless, as it will be impossible to shelter people under tents in this barren, bitingly cold desert where winter temperatures hover around -30 degrees Celsius.

Running short on cement and steel — and even bed rolls and blankets — the government is planning to set up tents to house the homeless as an interim measure and has also started building ‘pucca’ homes.

“Pucca houses will be built by the government free of cost… We are moving in material like cement and steel from Srinagar,” says Chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. The claims of the civil administration, however, need to be taken with a pinch of salt as only 8,000 truckloads, out of the allocated 18,000, of cement, steel, bitumen and pipes needed for winter stocking have been picked up from Srinagar.

With Zojila pass, connecting Srinagar with Leh, likely to be closed due to snowfall by the middle of October, it would be tough to move in building material. And the situation would worsen even the more with a large number of Army trucks clogging the road with loads of winter supplies for the troops.





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