Air force helicopters and rescue teams searched for survivors in northern India after days of monsoon rains triggered flash floods and landslides, killing at least 138 people and leaving hundreds missing.
Parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the worst-hit states located in the foothills of the Himalayas, have been inundated by rains and swollen rivers. The downpours have washed away more than 400 roads as well as homes, vehicles and mobile-phone towers in the states, the ACT Alliance, an umbrella group of local and global non-governmental organizations, said in a statement.
While monsoon rains annually cause destruction across India, this year they have swept over the country with record speed, leaving tens of thousands of Hindu and Sikh pilgrims stranded. As many as 73,000 pilgrims, who traditionally flock to religious sites in the Himalayas in June, are stuck, ACT said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a press conference today that the number of casualties is expected to rise as the army and air force continue to search for survivors.
“Our hearts go out to the families of those who have lost their lives,” Singh said as he announced 10 billion rupees ($170 million) of relief package to help those affected.
More than 100 people were killed in Uttarakhand, Yashpal Arya, its minister for disaster management and rehabilitation, said by phone. While most of the tourists and pilgrims stranded in Kedarnath, a popular Hindu religious site, have been evacuated, a large number are still stuck at other locations, said Arya, adding it will take at least two more days to evacuate them.
Twenty five helicopters were being used to rescue people and drop essential supplies such as food, milk, water and medicines, Arya said. Paramilitary security personnel, and staff of the national disaster rescue force and state administration were involved in relief work, he said.
“This is the worst flash flood in about 90 years,” Arya said. “The state has been devastated.”
While the Kedarnath shrine was intact, the surrounding part has been severely damaged and submerged, the minister said. Weather conditions have improved, he said.
Information from remote areas is slowly emerging and may push the death toll higher. Across both Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, 138 have been killed, Press Trust of India reported, without saying where it got the information.
India’s monsoon, which accounts for about 70 percent of the country’s rainfall, is vital for its agriculture-driven economy. Rains since the monsoon began June 1 have been 58 percent above average, helping to ease water shortages in some regions and promising to boost crop production in the world’s second-most populous country.
More than 235 million farmers in India, the world’s second-largest producer of cotton, rice and sugar cane, depend on rain for irrigating crops. The monsoon usually makes landfall in the south in June and covers all of India by July 15.
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