Amarnath Cloudburst: Rescuers Fighting Hostile Terrain,Uncertain Weather

16 people have been declared dead and over 40 missing. Around 15,000 pilgrims stranded near the Amarnath holy cave were shifted to the lower base camp of Panjtarni on Saturday.

Srinagar- Even as the allied forces are leading the rescue operation at the cloudburst-hit Amarnath site at the behest of expert teams and technical support, the threat of a natural calamity is looming large.

There are apprehensions of another cloudburst and heavy downpour in the same area where a flash flood was triggered yesterday, a security official, who wished anonymity, told Kashmir Observer.

“Despite enough men and machinery being pressed into action, the rescue operation is extremely difficult to conduct due to the inclement weather and the muddy terrain hampering efforts to rescue the stranded and injured persons,” he added.

The officer said that the rigid geographical layout of the holy cave has inundated the place of incident with massive mud and debris reaching heights of 3-5 feet.

“In carrying out rescue and relief operations in such difficult terrain, rescuers always face hostility in operation,” the official said, adding that the first priority is to save human life.

“The 13-kilometer long rigid terrain is hampering rescue work in locating missing persons and dead bodies. It’s not a plane surface where a QRT can effortlessly walk with stretchers and other equipment. The track which leads to the holy cave was already rigid and the latest flash flood has filled it with stagnant mud. The debris brought down by the flood is a huge challenge to the rescue operation.”

Echoing the same views, a top paramilitary officer told Kashmir Observer that the weather forecast of a heavy downpour has raised serious alarm bells among the rescue teams.

“If there’s a heavy downpour, there are definite chances of a landslide,” he said. “This is a cause of worry for all of us. Our immediate priority is to evacuate the stranded pilgrims and injured persons from vulnerable spots to a safer location. The second priority is to find the missing and the dead persons. Once done with these two pressing tasks, the focus will be shifted on infrastructural damage. Tonnes of debris have accumulated on the track near Amarnath cave. There is a limitation to the amount of work that can be done.”

As of now, 16 people have been declared dead and over 40 missing. Around 15,000 pilgrims stranded near the Amarnath holy cave were shifted to the lower base camp of Panjtarni on Saturday.

Immediately, after the calamity struck on Friday, a rescue operation was launched but was halted at around 10 pm last night due to the inclement weather. It resumed on Saturday morning.

Besides the men and machinery, authorities have moved a special squad of rescue dogs to the Baltal base camp to find the missing persons who are believed to be trapped under the debris.

Army has already dispatched six rescue teams including copters to provide air support and has also engaged nine surveillance detachments with hand-held thermal imagers, night vision devices and other gadgets for the search operations.

An official said that two advanced light helicopters (ALH) were moved for casualty evacuation at the holy cave. “Two Through Wall Radars and two Search and Rescue dog squads were also moved to the cave for the rescue operation,” he added.

Besides the army, Indian Air Force has deployed two each ALH Dhruv and Mi-17 V5 helicopters from Srinagar. One AN-32 and Ilyushin-76 transport are on stand-by at Chandigarh.

IAF officials said 29 people were rescued, of whom 9 were seriously injured. Border Security Force’s MI-17 chopper also airlifted injured persons and dead bodies from Neelgrah helipad/ Baltal to BSF Camp Srinagar for further treatment or further ferrying bodies to their homes.

As the rescue operation is on, the officials have suspended the Amarnath Yatra until further notice.

The 43-day Yatra began on June 30 from the twin routes — the traditional 48-km path from Nunwan in Pahalgam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag, and the 14-km shorter but steep Baltal route in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir.

The pilgrimage to the cave shrine is being held after a gap of three years. In 2019, the pilgrimage was cancelled midway ahead of the Centre abrogating Article 370 provisions of the Constitution. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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