Weather hampers India flood rescue as 1,000 die

Thousands stranded in Uttarakhand after monsoon flooding and landslides

A view shows the damaged houses next to a river after heavy rains in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Photograph: Indian Ministry of Defence/Handout/Reuters

A view shows the damaged houses next to a river after heavy rains in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Photograph: Indian Ministry of Defence/Handout/Reuters

Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 13:58

Dense fog and rain briefly hampered efforts yesterday to evacuate thousands of people stranded in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, where at least 1,000 people have died in monsoon flooding and landslides, army officials said.

The army suspended helicopter flights to rescue stranded people after heavy fog descended on the Himalayan region yesterday m orning, but the evacuation flights resumed in the afternoon, the military said.

Troops were also building makeshift bridges, and some people were being rescued by soldiers on the ground, according to a statement released by the defence ministry.

Indian troops evacuated 1,000 stranded people from the mountains around Jungle Chatti in the Kedar Valley of Uttarakhand, the ministry said. More rain is expected in the area over the next few days, according to the India Meteorological Department.

Most of those who were stranded were on a pilgrimage known as Char Dham Yatra, which takes Hindus to four of the holiest shrines in Uttarakhand between May and November. But thousands of residents of villages in the flood-hit areas have also been affected.

“I was stranded in a bus for three days, and we were stuck near a village where the roads had been washed away by the floods,” said Avinash Kumar, a businessman from the state of Uttar Pradesh, who had gone on the pilgrimage with his wife and two sons. “We could see the nearby village from the bus and the floods and lightning had destroyed most of its houses away. Who knows what happened to the villagers?”

Bhaskaranand Joshi, secretary of revenue and disaster management in Uttarakhand, said that the number of people evacuated had risen to 94,000 on Sunday and that 9,000 people were still stranded. Joshi said 127 relief camps had been set up throughout the state.

Several telephone hot lines have been by set up by the government for relatives of the missing. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing for a moment,” said a Uttarakhand police officer assigned to answer calls. “We are taking the details of the missing persons, their last locations, and forwarding them to the personnel carrying out the rescue operations.”

With the military and the police focused on the rescue operation, little has been done to recover bodies buried under debris and mud. Officials fear that once a concerted recovery effort begins, the number of dead may grow substantially. “It is hard to come up with a definite death count till the forces can look through the debris and the slush,” a police officer said.

The Sunday Tribune, an Indian newspaper, reported from the hardest-hit area in Uttarakhand that “an overwhelming stench of bodies and rotting carcasses pervades the air.”

I ndian volunteer groups have been collecting clothes, food, blankets and money for residents of Uttarakhand, The Associated Press reported, and the US ambassador to India, Nancy J. Powell, said yesterday that the United States would provide $150,000 (€115,000) in emergency relief to families living in remote areas of the state.

New York Times