Pilgrims walk along a mountain path after a landslide off the Gangotri-Uttarkashi road on Wednesday. (PTI)
Lucknow, July 16: Visits to Kedarnath have been stopped for three days following heavy rain and landslides that have raised fears of a repeat of last year’s calamity in which at least 5,000 people perished.
Around 5,000 pilgrims are reported to be stranded as swollen rivers have washed away bridges and threatened to engulf roads to the hill shrine that reopened barely two months ago after almost a year of repairs to the structure damaged in last year’s flash floods.
Over 300 pilgrims had died at the temple alone, trapped by the surge and hit by boulders rolling off the hills.
This time, uncertainty also looms over three other destinations — Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri — that along with Kedarnath make up what is known as the Char Dham Yatra.
“We have suspended visits by pilgrims to Kedarnath for at least three days from today as the rain is expected to continue till July 18,” Piyus Rautela, executive director of Uttarakhand’s disaster management centre, said from Dehradun.
Anand Sharma, the director of the state’s Met office, forecast more rain in the next few days. “Although the rain will not be like last year’s, it may disrupt roads,” he said.
Other weather officials said the average daily rainfall in the past five days ranged between 90mm and 110mm, with the maximum recorded in the past 24 hours.
Most rivers are in spate, including the Ganga and its tributaries Alkananda and Mandakini. This morning, a bridge on the Saraswati river at Rudraprayag gave way, leaving around 164 pilgrims headed to Kedarnath stranded, officials said.
Landslides are a threat too. “Landslides at Rudraprayag and Gaurikund have blocked the road to Kedarnath following last night’s rain,” said Rudraprayag district magistrate Raghav Langar, adding the administration had set up shelters for the hundreds of stranded visitors. In Chamoli, also on way to Kedarnath, over 300 pilgrims are reported to be stuck. In Rishikesh, the base of the hills from where the pilgrimage begins, around 1,700 visitors have been sheltered in camps.
For the residents, who had been rebuilding lives wrecked by last year’s calamity, the latest threat could not have come at worse time.
In some places like Guptkashi, people fearing flash floods are leaving homes for higher areas. In Uttar Kashi, the district administration has advised locals not to step out of home for the next 24 hours to avoid being caught in landslides or being hit by boulders.
Uttarakhand home minister Pritam Singh today reviewed the situation at a meeting with officials of the disaster management cell and district magistrates. Evacuation plans have been drawn up for residents in high-risk zones, such as river banks.
For an administration battening down the hatches, an added problem was yoga practitioner Ramdev’s visit to Gangotri yesterday with 400 of his associates, defying the government’s warning, sources said.
Last year’s flash floods had followed a cloudburst of rare ferocity, triggering days of non-stop rain.