Leh: Rescue and relief efforts were on a war-footing in cloudburst-hit Leh region as 81 foreigners and six tour guides were on Monday rescued by the Air Force from Zanskar Valley while the death toll mounted to 165 and 400 others remained missing.
150 of the dead have been identified so far, official sources said, adding the victims include a Romanian woman, 15 Nepalese nationals and two Tibetans. Two French nationals and a Spaniard were yet to be traced, they said.
The IAF carried out a record 62 sorties by Chetak helicopters in five and half hours to bring back 81 foreign campers and six tour guides from the 11,000-feet Zanskar Valley who were stuck there since intervening night of August 5 and 6 after cloudburst and flash floods wreaked havoc in Leh and surrounding areas.
The foreigners rescued include 17 British and French nationals, nine people from the Netherlands, eight from Czechoslovakia, seven Germans and four Israelis, according to IAF officials.
200 people, including foreigners, are still stranded in various places in the affected area, officials said.
Sniffer dogs, which arrived here by an IAF transport aircraft, have been pressed into service to look for survivors as relief efforts by security forces gained momentum who were taking the help of heavy duty bulldozers and other machines to clear the rubble.
The Army, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF), police and civilian authorities were trying hard to remove the piles of mud and slush which had buried villages in the worst-battered Choglusmar belt here as well as to restore telephone links, the sources said.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today visited Leh for the second time after the tragedy struck and directed the Border Roads Organisation to clear the Manali-Leh highway within next three days. He asked the officials engaged in relief work to ensure that procedural formalities do not delay the operation.
The highway which was swept away in flash floods is one of the two road links between the 'cold desert' and other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, a fresh cloudburst in Kargil area on Saturday has cut off many villages.
The IAF tried to airdrop essential items including tents and clothing in the villages affected by the cloudburst as roads were badly damaged, Tashi Tsetan, Deputy Director with the development wing of the local administration, said.
The Air Force has been ferrying medicines, relief material and doctors here using IL-76 and AN-32 aircraft and has been flying out bodies of the victims to various places as the highways remained cutoff.
With death and destruction all around, the miraculous survival of a three-year-old girl brought cheers to the ITBP personnel slugging it out in the tough conditions.
Shreejal, daughter of ITBP Deputy Commandant (Engineering) Raj Kumar who was separated from her parents in the flash floods, was found alive neck deep in slush in one of the building in the battalion campus though her face had several injuries. PTI