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We are with you, Sonia tells Kashmiris

By Luv Puri

JAMMU, FEB. 23. The United Progressive Alliance chairperson and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, said today that the entire country supported the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their hour of need and that the Centre would provide succour to those affected by the recent avalanches.

Ms. Gandhi was talking to reporters along with the Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, at the end of their survey of the affected areas."This is a difficult time for the people in the State's remote and hilly areas. At the same time I want to assure everyone that the entire country is behind the people of Jammu and Kashmir in these tough times. I have myself taken stock of the situation. There has been devastation and [a] lot is to be done.Not only have many lives been lost but also a lot of infrastructure has been damaged. Steps are being taken to restore normality which would take some time," Ms. Gandhi said.

Visit cut short

Shujaat Bukhari reports from Srinagar:

Earlier Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Mukherjee were forced to cut short their survey after the Indian Air Force helicopter carrying them was unable to land at the Khanabal headquarters of the Rashtriya Rifles in Anantnag district due to bad weather. They wound up their tour after visiting Qazigund in South Kashmir and Poonch in Jammu.

They were accompanied by the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, the All-India Congress Committee general secretary, Ambika Soni, and the Army Chief, J.J. Singh.

Appreciating the role of the armed forces, Mr. Mukherjee said they had acted spontaneously in a crisis by providing relief to the affected people and carrying out rescue and search operations in remote areas. "On behalf of the government and the people of the country, I want to express solidarity with the people of the State who have suffered a huge loss of life and property in the natural calamity," he said.

Doctors to be flown in

Gen. Singh assured the dignitaries that all possible measures would be taken to tackle the situation.

"We will fly snow-scooters to the affected areas for shifting the injured to the hospitals. The Army will also shift nurses and doctors to the affected areas," he said.

Instructors from the high-altitude warfare school at Gulmarg and the mountaineering institutes in Darjeeling and Manali would be brought in to lead the relief operations.

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