Shimla/Manali: About 252 people were safely evacuated in the five-day long rescue operation from the snow marooned Lahaul Valley in Himachal Pradesh on Saturday. Most of the people who were rescued were tourists comprising a majority of Indian children and women. As many as 4,770 who were rescued by road were from Germany, Norway, Denmark and Nepal.

As per an official statement, “The air rescue operations have been called-off as per the direction of the government of India in the wake of fresh assessment of the situation.” The recent snow which has damaged about 80 per cent of the apple crop and 90 per cent electricity supply, was the heaviest snow in the region after the 1955 snow. The condition in the Lahaul-Spiti district is likely to normalize in a span of 10 days, stated State Tribal Development Minister Ram Lal Markanda.

On Friday afternoon, the airlifting of tourists by the Indian Air Force (IAF) was hampered due to snowfall in the high hills situated 122 km north of Manali, including Keylong. Stranded in the hills with family, a tourist from Chandigarh named Harjit Singh, told IANS, “We were stranded near Baralacha Pass for three days without food and water. Finally, a team of rescuers came to help us and others. They took us to a nearby army base camp from where the IAF airlifted us and gave us a new life.”

Kullu Deputy Commissioner Yunus Khan told IANS that the rescue operations were carried out in three formats. While all the people were evacuated to safety, some people decided to stay in the place until the roads are motorable because they were not willing to leave their vehicles behind. First, the IAF was airlifting the tourists from vulnerable spots. Second, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was rescuing the people by road. And third, the local administration was providing logistic support to both the IAF and the BRO in rescuing people. Two light utility helicopters were deployed along with three IAF choppers, including MI-17, to speed up the rescue process in Lahaul.

(With inputs from IANS)