Death toll in Amarnath cloudburst rises to 16; 15,000 stranded pilgrims evacuated

The ITBP has expanded its route opening and protection parties from the lower part of the holy cave up to Panjtarni, a spokesperson of the force said.

Srinagar: The death toll in the flash flood triggered by a cloudburst near the Amarnath cave shrine rose to 16 on Saturday while 15,000 stranded pilgrims were shifted to the lower base camp of Panjtarni, officials said on Saturday.

Searches for the missing people continued without break after flash flood and landslides rummaged through tents and community kitchens on Friday afternoon. Senior officials said 25 injured people have been shifted to hospitals while many people are believed to be still trapped under the debris.

According to an Army official, mountain rescue teams and lookout patrols and sniffer dogs have been pressed into the search and rescue operation.

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“Air rescue operations started Saturday morning and six pilgrims were evacuated by Army helicopters. The military medical teams are receiving patients and casualties at the Nilagrar helipad for onward evacuation,” officials said.

An Mi-17 chopper of the BSF’s air wing has been pressed into service. The Jammu and Kashmir administration has also deployed advanced light helicopters for the rescue operations.

A Border Security Force (BSF) spokesperson in Delhi said “16 bodies have been shifted to Baltal.”

The ITBP has expanded its route opening and protection parties from the lower part of the holy cave up to Panjtarni, a spokesperson of the force said.

Additional Director General of Jammu and Kashmir Police Vijay Kumar, who holds charge of the Kashmir range, reached the holy cave shrine on Saturday morning to supervise the rescue operations being conducted by security forces and the National Disaster Response Force.

He said the rescuers were clearing the debris to look for survivors as the administration was cross-checking the data of pilgrims to get the exact number of casualties. Every pilgrim has been provided Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) card this time because of terror threats.

The annual pilgrimage, which began on June 30, has been suspended following the tragedy and a decision on its resumption will be taken after rescue operations get over, a senior administration official said.

“Most of the pilgrims, who were stranded near the holy cave shrine area due to the flash flood that occurred Friday evening, have been shifted to Panjtarni. The evacuation continued till 3.38 am.

“No pilgrim is left on the track. About 15,000 people have been safely shifted till now,” the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) spokesperson said.

The BSF spokesperson said doctors and medical staff of the paramilitary force treated nine patients who were critically injured in the floods. “They have been shifted to the lower-altitude Neelgrath base camp,” he said. A team of BSF personnel has deployed at the Neelgrath helipad to assist the pilgrims coming from the cave shrine.

About 150 pilgrims stayed at the BSF camp set up in Panjtarni on Friday night and 15 patients have been airlifted to Baltal on Saturday morning, he said.

The injured were being treated at the Nilkant camp in Sonamarg. An integrated command centre has been set up under the charge of the divisional commissioner of Kashmir while helpline numbers have been established in Anantnag in South Kashmir, Srinagar and in Delhi for families of pilgrims to know about the wellbeing of their kin.

The 43-day Amarnath Yatra 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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