Setting an example, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jairam Thakur deployed his newly acquired 16-seater chopper for ferrying at least 66 people stranded in the Himalayan heights.
As the weather cleared on Sunday after days, Thakur directed authorities to deploy his chopper in its maiden flight for the evacuation of the people, including tourists, who have been stranded in the remote landlocked Lahaul-Spiti district for five days after roads closed down due to flash floods.
In its day-long four sorties, the chopper will evacuate almost all stranded people from Tandi and will drop them to Baring and Kullu from where they will be sent to their destinations in public transport by road.
In fact, Thakur, who reached Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti, on Saturday to oversee the ongoing relief and rescue operations, decided to travel in his old chopper on Sunday to reach the state capital so that the new one can be used to ferry the stranded people.
A total of 221 people, comprising tourists from New Delhi, Punjab, Odisha and Maharashtra, were rescued by road from various places by Saturday.
Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the local administration have been deployed for the rescue operation.
Earlier, the stranded people could not be airlifted owing to bad climatic conditions, a government official told IANS.
The newly hired chopper had been stationed in Kullu town since its arrival on the direction of the Chief Minister so that it could be deployed in airlifting people as the weather got cleared, he added.
Seven people were washed away in a flash flood in the Tozing rivulet in Udaipur subdivision, some 15 km from district headquarters Keylong, after a cloudburst on July 27. Three people are still missing.
The strategic Manali-Sarchu road was closed for traffic at various places due to multiple landslides, said the BRO’s Project Deepak.
It dispatched its trained Engineering Task Force with personnel and equipment to undertake the rescue and road clearing operations.
On July 29, on one such stretch near Sarchu ahead of Baralacha Pass on Manali-Leh road, a number of civilians, including women and children, were stranded and facing problems due to lack of oxygen in inclement high-altitude conditions.
The BRO team cleared the landslide, amid a series of other landslides, near Kenlung Sarai located at an altitude of 14,480 ft and rescued the people.
However, Naik Reetesh Kumar Pal of Project Deepak, who was part of the rescue efforts, lost his life. The road was, later, opened for traffic.
In another incident on July 27, a separate Engineer Task Force of BRO was deployed for clearance of Kiler-Tandi road which was blocked due to heavy landslides. Two passenger vehicles were stranded in the area.
The team, which had already cleared two landslides en route, carried out a late-night clearance operation to save lives of civilians stranded in the slide zone.
During the operation, some members of the team, six civilians and a vehicle were washed away by a sudden flash flood. Junior Engineer Rahul Kumar lost his life in the incident, while others were rescued by the BRO personnel.
The BRO personnel, later, cleared the landslide, rescued the stranded passengers and moved them to safer locations.
The climatic conditions in those areas are harsh as the temperature plummets to as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius.