As rescue operations were stepped up with additional IAF choppers being pressed into service, over 30,000 pilgrims and tourists have so far been evacuated from different parts of the flood-affected areas mostly from Rudraprayag, Tehri, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh districts in Uttarakhand.
Over 150 people are reported to be dead so far. The Uttarakhand State Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre has in its report to the Union Home Ministry said that casualties in the affected areas may run into thousands with about 90 'dharamashalas' (rest houses for pilgrims) swept away in the flash floods.
Nearly 14,000 people are believed to be missing and another 60,000 are stranded.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna on Thursday said there was no clarity on the final death toll, as the rescue teams were still battling the floods and other hurdles caused by boulders along the highways.
"It could be in hundreds. I will tell you (reporters) the exact number once my people have conducted a survey and the Army personnel have come down (from the mountain)," said Bahuguna.
Meanwhile, the first army helicopter with food and medicine landed near Kedarnath temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva located in Uttarakhand, which is intact but the shops and homes near the temple are badly damaged.
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Central Command, Lieutenant General Anil Chait, yesterday said the Indian Army had launched rescue mission spread over 40,000 square kilometres.
"Indian Army and Central Command have launched one of the largest and most extensive human rescue missions that has ever been launched in the history. It is spread over 40,000 square kilometres," he told the media in Gochar.
Forty-five choppers belonging to the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force are being used to airlift and help the stranded people. Soldiers and officers of the Indian Army are helping the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel in the rescue efforts.
The bad weather is, however, making it tough for the helicopters to land and evacuate the pilgrims.
The army personnel have so far rescued more than 11,000 people, mainly from Govindghat and Harsil.
Defence Minister AK Antony is closely monitoring the situation and has directed the armed forces to extend maximum possible support in the operations.
About 10,000 people are also being provided food and medical assistance. Over 50 relief camps have been set up for those evacuated till now.
Scores of distressed people looking for relatives are waiting in Dehradun, where the flood survivors are being brought by plane and helicopter. They are searching for their missing family members hoping that someone had seen them.