India’s military continued working today to evacuate thousands still stranded in the foothills of the Himalayas as the death toll rose to more than 750 after torrential rains in the region triggered flash floods.
Narrow valleys in the mountainous north, where shrines lure tens of thousands of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims during the summer months, remain cut off six days after torrents surged through the rocky canyons. Helicopters continue to drop supplies in remote areas of Uttarakhand state, where roads were swept away.
As many as 1,000 people may have died in the floods, NDTV 24X7 reported citing Vijay Bahuguna, Uttarakhand’s chief minister.
“We are working on a war footing even if there is bad weather,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters yesterday as he visited the region. “The government will provide whatever help, money required for relief operations. We are having regular meetings over the crisis situation. Our paramilitary forces are carrying out relief operations.”
Monsoon rains that annually cause destruction across India have moved over the country with record speed this year. Downpours channeled by steep-sided and deforested valleys have generated especially violent floods, washing away homes, vehicles and mobile-phone towers. Television networks have broadcast footage of buildings collapsing into raging rivers and village streets filled with debris and rocks.
Vital to Farms
India’s monsoon accounts for about 70 percent of the rainfall vital to the country’s agriculture-driven economy. Rains since the monsoon began June 1 have been 39 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.
Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, called on all national and state lawmakers in her party to donate a month’s salary to help those affected by the floods, Ajay Maken, a senior Congress leader, wrote on his Twitter page.
The Indian Air Force has deployed 43 aircraft, federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari told reporters in New Delhi June 21.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on June 19 announced a 10 billion rupee ($169 million) relief package, saying the number of casualties is expected to rise.
Uttarakhand, which abuts India’s border with China to the west of Nepal and has a population of about 10 million, has received almost four times the usual rainfall this month, causing rivers to burst their banks.
The army and air force have deployed more than 8,000 troops, including medical teams and engineers, to clear roads blocked by landslides and construct temporary bridges to help reach survivors.
In 2007, more than 2,800 people were killed by monsoon rains during India’s June-September wet season. As many as 50 million people were affected by floods that destroyed 1.6 million homes in the four-month monsoon period. The United Nations described the flood as the “worst in living memory.”
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