Army, IAF bring succour to devastated Leh

Saturday, August 7, 2010

NEW DELHI/LEH - Six Indian Air Force (IAF) planes landed Saturday in devastated Leh town in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh region with men and material to carry out rescue and relief operations after flash floods triggered by a massive cloudburst killed 120 people.

The Indian Army has also activated its disaster management cell for rescue operations on a war footing since the tragedy hit the cold desert mountainous region located at an altitude of 3,505 metres.

Heavy rainfall disrupted the operations for a few hours Saturday. More than 6,000 army soldiers are conducting rescue and relief work in the region that shares its borders with China.

While the priority of the relief operations of the army is on saving lives and property, soldiers are also providing succour to the affected with food, drinking water, medicines. Bulldozers and other earth moving equipment of the army were pressed into service to clear the mudslide.

Leh airport, affected in the mud slide, was opened Saturday and six planes of the IAF carrying disaster response teams, doctors, communications equipment and material took off from Delhi and Chandigarh.

A defence spokesperson said the rescue and relief operations “received a major boost with the arrival of six plane loads of men and material augmented”.

Two Ilyushin-76 and four Antonov-32 aircraft of the IAF carried 30 tonnes of load, which include 125 rescue and relief personnel, medicines, generators, tents, portable X-ray machines and emergency rescue kits.

Two teams from the central ministry of health and family welfare, including specialist doctors and surgeons from Delhi, also reached Leh.

The spokesman said 110 bodies were been recovered from debris.

From Western Command Headquarters in Chandigarh, 4,000 ready-to-eat food packets were sent to Leh.

A MI-17 helicopter had been pressed into service to carry out relief operations in Nubra Valley since Friday when the disaster struck, while two more Chetak helicopters have been provided to the civil administration for aerial recce of affected areas.

Some 33 columns of the army and personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police have been deployed in the affected areas to carry out rescue operations, the spokesperson said.

“So far, more than 500 injured civilians and tourists have been treated at the military hospital at Leh and about 100 discharged after treatment. As a special gesture, the IAF has agreed to carry bodies of foreign tourists and non-locals to Delhi if no civilian flights are available from Leh,” he said.

The tri-service Disaster Management Coordination Group, which met at South Block Saturday morning, reviewed the progress in rescue and relief operations and decided to earmark special service aircraft to carry 19 VSATs and a set of other equipment of BSNL to Leh. This is being done to help restore mobile and telecom connectivity at the earliest.

In the meantime, two INMARSAT mobile phones have been provided to Leh district administration for meeting immediate communication requirements.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who is closely following the rescue and relief efforts, was briefed by the tri-service Disaster Management Group about the steps taken to provide succour to the victims in Leh, the spokesperson said.

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