Indian monsoon toll nears 600
Rescuers recovered scores of bodies from the Ganges river in northern India Friday, as the death toll from flash floods and landslides neared 600, with thousands of mainly pilgrims and tourists still stranded or missing.
- Published: 21/06/2013 at 10:49 PM
- Newspaper section: breakingnews
An Indian pilgrim, evacuated from flood-hit areas by the Indian Air Force (IAF), is transported by medics at the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, Uttarakhand on June 21, 2013. Rescuers have recovered scores of bodies from the Ganges river in northern India, as the death toll from flash floods and landslides nears 600, with thousands still stranded or missing.
Helicopters and thousands of soldiers have been deployed to rescue more than 35,000 people trapped, the home ministry said, almost one week after floods and landslides from torrential monsoon rains struck the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.
Raging rivers have swept away houses, buildings and even entire villages, and destroyed bridges and narrow roads leading to pilgrimage towns in the mountainous state known as the "Land of the Gods" for its revered Hindu shrines.
"556 bodies have been noticed by the army... either floating or buried in slush," Vijay Bahuguna, state chief minister told local TV channel CNN-IBN on Friday evening.
Scores of bodies were recovered from the Ganges river earlier on Friday, with the death toll expected to rise further as flood waters recede showing the extent of the devastation and rescue workers reach more isolated areas of the state.
"This kind of disaster has never happened in Himalayan history," Bahuguna said.
Thousands of people, mainly pilgrims and tourists remain stranded or missing, as anxious relatives waited at state capital Dehradun, where military helicopters and other aircraft are assisting with rescue efforts.
"So many are missing across the state. The numbers of the dead could rise sharply in the days to come," Uttarakhand's relief minister Yashpal Arya told AFP earlier on Friday.
Bahuguna attacked the India Meterological Department (IMD) for not issuing adequate warning ahead of the heavy rains which struck earlier than expected.
"The IMD warning was not clear enough," he said, adding that the local government was unable to prepare for the deluge and evacuate people in time.
Neelam Rana, a 27-year-old mother of two, who was rescued with her family on Friday after waiting nearly a week for help said she "was overwhelmed" to finally leave.
"We suffered a lot. Our food ran out, I don't know how we survived," she told AFP, as she prepared to leave with her husband and children, aged five and two years old.
Distraught relatives clutching photographs of missing family members were waiting outside Dehradun airport for news, an AFP photographer on the scene said.
Amit Thakur, 40, said his 11-year-old nephew has been missing since their family-run hotel collapsed last week.
"I just hope the army will trace our little boy. I have been standing outside the airport for the last three days to get any information about him," Thakur told AFP.
The military operation, involving some 43 helicopters and more than 10,000 soldiers, was concentrating on reaching those stranded in the holy town of Badrinath after earlier finding widespread devastation in the Kedarnath temple area.
Another 17 people have been killed in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh, a senior government official said.
Floods and landslides from monsoon rains have also struck across the border in Nepal, leaving at least 39 people dead, the government there said.
Some of those stranded in mountainous areas of Uttarakhand are trying to walk to safer ground, with photos showing pilgrims, aided by soldiers, using ropes and makeshift ladders to climb down cliffs and cross rivers.
Soldiers have also reached some of the villages in lower-lying areas by boat, ferrying women clutching babies, children and elderly men to safety. Video footage shows only roofs of the houses visible above the water line.
Rescue workers who have managed to reach those stranded are racing to cut down trees and clear vegetation to allow military helicopters to land and evacuate those most in need, a state official said.
"Thousands of tourists are waiting in the dense forests. They had all taken refuge in the jungle after hotels and other buildings collapsed," the state's principal secretary Rakesh Sharma said.
"We are trying all possible ways to rescue them. Roads are totally destroyed," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late on Thursday described the situation as "distressing" and announced a $170 million aid package and an online appeal for funds, asking "all citizens of India to stand with our distressed fellow countrymen" and "donate generously".
About the author
- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency