Relief operations are underway on Saturday, 9 July, to rescue pilgrims impacted by flash floods triggered by a cloudburst near the lower reaches of the Amarnath cave on Friday, which claimed the lives of at least 16 people and injured 48.
While 15 out of the 16 bodies have been retrieved so far, around 40 people continue to be missing.
The Indian Army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are conducting the rescue operations.
"At least 15,000 pilgrims, who were stranded near the Amarnath holy cave in Jammu and Kashmir due to a flash flood triggered by a cloudburst, have been shifted to the lower base camp of Panjtarni," an ITBP spokesperson said, adding that no pilgrim is left on the track.
Two dog squads have also been inducted by air to the site, as per the Indian Army.
IAF Choppers Deployed for Rescue; Helpline Started
Indian Air Force has deployed 2 ALH Dhruv and Mi-17 V5 helicopters each from Srinagar for the rescue operations in Amarnath. One AN-32 and Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft are on standby in Chandigarh for further requirements, as per officials.
A total of eight choppers including army helicopters are being used for the rescue operations.
All the injured persons are undergoing treatment at hospitals such as Upper Holy Cave, Lower Holy Cave, Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and Panjtarni where healthcare workers have been assigned.
A small BSF team has also been deployed at the Neelgrath helipad to assist the pilgrims coming from the holy cave. About 150 pilgrims stayed at the the BSF camp in Panjtarni on Friday night and 15 patients were airlifted to Baltal on Saturday morning, a BSF spokesperson told PTI.
The IAF helicopters brought back mortal remains on Saturday.
The cloudburst had taken place near the Amarnath shrine at around 5:30 pm on Friday, resulting in a heavy discharge of water in the 'nallah' near the cave.
Amid the chaos, the 11th batch of over 6,000 Amarnath pilgrims left the Jammu city on Saturday for the twin base camps in Kashmir, even though the pilgrimage that began on 30 June has been suspended.
A decision on its resumption will be taken after the rescue operations are over, officials had said earlier.
'Flash Floods May Be Due to Rain, Not Cloudburst': IMD
The deaths and destruction near the Amarnath shrine could have been caused by highly localised rain and not a cloudburst, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Friday.
According to weather scientists, the shrine reported 31 mm of rainfall between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm on Friday, which is quite low to be termed as a cloudburst.
"The flash floods could have been triggered due to rainfall in the higher reaches of the mountains near the Amarnath cave shrine," IMD Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra told news agency PTI.
A rain event, according to the IMD, is categorised as a cloudburst if a weather station receives 100 mm of rain in one hour.
'Anguished, Distressed': PM Modi & Others on Incident
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended his "condolences to the bereaved families" and said that he had spoken to Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to take "stock of the situation." He added that all possible assistance was being provided to the affected.
President Ram Nath Kovind said that he was "distressed" to learn of the situation. He, too, said that relief measures were in full swing.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, took to Twitter to say that the disappearance and deaths following the incident was "shocking." He wished a speedy recovery for those injured and expressed grief for those who had died.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury urged that "no stone be left unturned to save everyone caught in this and rescue operations be mounted on a war footing."
Telangana BJP MLA Escapes Cloudburst
Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh has escaped the flash flood triggered by the cloudburst. Raja Singh and his family members who reached Amarnath by a chopper decided to use ponies to descend from the hills as the weather started deteriorating on Friday.
“I could see cloudburst about one kilometer down the hills. Several tents swept away in the floods,” he said.
He added that several people including those from Telangana were stranded and multiple people had been swept away. The army helped his family reach Srinagar since he is under special security protection.
Kashmir Directorate of Health Cancels All Leaves
The Kashmir Directorate of Health Services (DHS) also cancelled all the leaves of its staff and ordered them to report for duty immediately, news agency ANI reported. The DHS had earlier asked all its officers to keep their phones switched on.
Chief medical officers in South Kashmir were directed to send additional doctors and paramedic staff along with supplies and emergency aid kits to Pahalgam. Doctors in north and central Kashmir, on the other hand, were asked to send the same to Baltal.
Meanwhile, the Ramban District Disaster Management Authority has asked all sub-divisional magistrates (SDMs) and Tehsildars to remain on high alert.
(With inputs from PTI and ANI)