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Friday, June 21, 2013

Hail the rescue efforts of Indian Army - Uttarakhand ravaged - Google People finder's help

In the God’s land of Uttarakhand, the devastation is brutal — the sheer force so fearsome that buildings, part of mountains all ripped over.  Reports confound to worst fears that nearly  14,000 people are believed to be missing in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand and another 60,000 continue to be stranded, the state government has said. The focus of the rescue efforts is at Gaurikund, one of the areas worst-hit by flash floods, landslides and rain. Gaurikund is the base camp for those going to the famous Kedarnath temple.  It is a relief to know that almost everyone from Kedarnath town - the epicenter of the devastation - was rescued. The Kedarnath temple is submerged in slush and mud, but is not damaged.

The army has launched its largest rescue and relief operation ever to help those stranded in the state. 45 choppers belonging to the Army and the Air Force are being used to air-lift and help stranded people. 8,500 soldiers are helping the National Disaster Response Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel in rescue efforts.  Bad weather is also making it tough for helicopters to land and evacuate pilgrims.  Soldiers are being ferried by helicopter and are climbing through mountain paths to reach those trapped. The Army has so far rescued more than 11,000 people, mainly from Govindghat and Harsil. About 10,000 people are also being provided food and medical assistance," an Army release said.

Indian Army serves people as always …

40 relief camps have been set up for those evacuated, however, nearly 60,000 people still remain cut off, officials said. Helplines have been set up : Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi and Chamoli: +919808151240, +919837134399; Pauri, Haridwar and Nainital: +91999779124, +919451901023; Almora, Bageshwar and Pithoragarh: +919456755206, +919634535758; Uttarakhand Disaster Management Secretary 9837542221. Evacuation of those stranded, remains the top priority say doctors at relief camps set up for stranded tourists and local residents whose houses have been destroyed in the monsoon floods.

It is stated that electricity has been restored. Mobile connectivity has also returned in Badrinath. Cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth  held a review meeting with top Central and Uttarakhand government officials and issued directions to speed up rescue operations in the flood-ravaged state. Seth also instructed BSNL to repair mobilephone towers in the state and restore telephony in the next few days.

A disaster of this magnitude is certainly very bad… here is something on how technology can be utilized. Search engine giant Google has launched an application “Person Finder” to offer information on missing people in flood-affected areas in the country, including Uttarakhand. Google Person Finder is a web application that allows individuals to post and search for the status of relatives or friends affected by a disaster, Google said in a blogpost. Given that most of these areas in the state are highly inaccessible with intermittent communication, Google Crisis team bring you the Person Finder,” the blog post of Google said. It is claimed that the  Google tool helped find people in the devastating tsunami in Japan in 2011 and also during the recent Boston Marathon bombings. Google Person Finder is a project of the Google Crisis Response division of, built by Google engineers in response to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti to help those affected by the earthquake.

The tool can help trace the missing people in flood-affected regions of Uttarakhand and is available in Hindi and English, it added. All data entered into Google Person Finder is available to the public and searchable by anyone. The programme also lets press agencies, non-governmental agencies and others contribute to the database and receive updates by using the Person Finder API based on the PFIF open standard.

It is reported that days before Uttarakhand was ravaged by rain, the state government had sought assistance of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to address the problem of high sediment deposits in its rivers that have raised water levels and could cause flash floods.  The report states that faced with the Union Environment and Forests Ministry's reluctance to give approval to mining on riverbeds, the state government conducted a study in May on river aggradation — rise in level of land due to sediment deposition — and asked the NDMA to come up with solutions.

When crisis looms so large and when people are struggling, does the aerial survey by high flying politicians serve any purpose ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

21st June 2013.

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