650 evacuated, 1,000 still stranded in snow-hit Himachal hills (Lead)
Shimla : More than 650 people, including five foreigners, have been evacuated in the past two days and over 1,000 are still stranded in snow-marooned Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh, officials said on Wednesday.
Three stranded persons, including a pregnant woman from Nepal, have died in the past two days.
On Wednesday, as the weather cleared, the government and the Indian Air Force (IAF) stepped up efforts to airlift tourists stranded for the past four days.
"IAF choppers and the state government are on the job to airlift the stranded. Most have been brought to Manali and Kullu towns," Kullu Deputy Commissioner Yunus Khan, who is supervising the relief and rescue operation, told IANS over telephone.
The IAF has deployed three helicopters while the state is using the Chief Minister's official chopper.
Nine persons, hailing from West Bengal, were airlifted from Stingri and five from the snow-marooned Baralacha Pass (16,020 ft). Five tourists from Norway and Denmark were also rescued.
Most people who got struck at the Baralacha Pass were travelling to and from Manali to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.
Early snowfall in the higher reaches, cloud burst and heavy rains devastated large parts of the state from September 22 to 24. Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti were the worst affected.
Heavy snowfall on the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft) has cut off the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys affecting a large number of tourists. They have been stranded at number of isolated locations, the Broader Roads Organisation (BRO) said.
The BRO, a wing of the Defence Ministry, has been clearing the snow from various roads on a war footing. Some stretches had over eight feet of snow.
By Tuesday evening, 457 persons have been rescued from the Lahual Valley to Manali through the under constructed Rohtang tunnel.
The rescued persons include faculty and students from IITs Mandi, Roorkee, Guwahati and Mumbai and some foreigners who went trekking besides locals, a BRO statement said.
Construction of Rohtang tunnel, one of the world's most challenging motorable projects at 3,000 metres above sea level and which will provide all-season connectivity to the landlocked Lahaul Valley from Manali, is on and may be completed by 2020.
The most ambitious and expensive undertaking of its kind, the excavation of the 8.8-km long horseshoe shaped tunnel under the 3,978 metres Rohtang Pass in the Himalayas was completed last October. Now civil engineering work is on.