Two days after flash floods hit Amarnath Yatra pilgrims, hope of finding survivors from among the missing people appear to be waninig.
The Indian Army has deployed heavy machinery to clear the debris, remove rocks, and restore the track to the Amarnath shrine. Sniffer dogs are also involved in ongoing rescue operations. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has deployed eight helicopters in resue and relief work.
A State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) official said most of the debris clearance is being done at the areas pointed at by sniffer dogs.
He added, "The rescue operations are going on as personnel from various agencies are clearing the debris in the hope of finding any survivor. We are still hopeful but anyone still alive under that debris will be a miracle."
In a separate development, the Amarnath Yatra has been suspended from Jammu due to inclement weather conditions and no fresh batch was allowed to proceed from here to the base camps of the 3,880-metre-high cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas, officials said.
The SDRF official said there has been no breakthrough as far as finding the survivors or even recovering a new body is concerned.
Besides sniffer dogs, the rescuers are also using hand-held thermal imagers and other sophisticated devices to check for any sign of life under the mounds of debris.
He further said, "Army engineers are working round the clock to clear the debris and restore the route to the holy cave."
Army jawans are supplementing the efforts of JCB excavators in clearing the route to the cave housing a naturally formed ice-lingam. The official, however, added that inclement weather can play spoilsport in the restoration efforts
The IAF evacuated 34 injured pilgrims from the medical facility at the Amarnath yatra base camp to a hospital in Srinagar on Sunday.
"An additional 34 injured pilgrims were evacuated by IAF Mi-17 V5 and Cheetal helicopters on Sunday," a defence spokesperson said in Srinagar.
The spokesperson said the IAF choppers also airlifted 20 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel, along with six canines, from Srinagar to take part in the search operation to trace the missing people believed to be stuck under debris.
At least 16 people have been killed in the flash floods caused by the cloudbursts in the area. Around 40 people are still missing.
An official told PTI, "Amarnath Yatra has been suspended from Jammu to twin base camps in Kashmir due to inclement weather. No fresh batch was allowed to move towards Amarnath."
The annual 43-day pilgrimage commenced from the twin base camps —Nunwan-Pahalgam in south Kashmir's Anantnag and Baltal in central Kashmir's Ganderbal— on June 30. Over 1 lakh pilgrims have offered prayers at the cave shrine, housing the naturally formed ice shivling, the officials said.
A total of 69,535 pilgrims have left in 10 batches from the Bhagwati Nagar base camp in Jammu for the Valley since June 29, the day the first batch of pilgrims was flagged off by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha.
The yatra is scheduled to end on August 11 on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan.
Earlier, the Indian Air Force on Saturday said it deployed eight helicopters as part of the rescue and relief operations following the cloudburst incident near the Amarnath cave shrine. The IAF said four Mi-17V5 and four Cheetal helicopters were deployed for rescue and relief efforts at the Amarnath shrine.
"The Cheetal helicopters flew 45 sorties, inducting five NDRF and Army personnel and 3.5 tonnes of relief material while evacuating 45 survivors from the holy cave," an IAF spokesperson said.
The Mi-17V5 helicopters flew 20 sorties, delivered 9.5 tonnes of relief material and evacuated 64 survivors, the official said adding the choppers brought back seven mortal remains from the area.
An-32 transport aircraft and a Dornier plane are also being utilised to airlift hand-held radar equipment from Imphal to Srinagar.
"Air assets continue to be on standby at all major air bases in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh areas," the spokesperson said.
(With PTI inputs)