Torrential rain and flash floods in northern India may have killed more than 1,000 people, a government official said, as the armed forces stepped up searches for those stranded in mountainous areas.
Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of India’s National Disaster Management Authority, told reporters in New Delhi that rescue teams were reaching more remote regions, and that he expected the death toll to soar from the current figure of about 150 people. “The devastation is massive” Reddy said.
About 50 Indian Air Force helicopters are looking for survivors cut off in the state of Uttarakhand, Bhaskaranand, the region’s secretary for disaster management, said in a phone interview. Religious shrines in the province, which abuts India’s border with China to the west of Nepal, attract Hindu and Sikh pilgrims each summer, tens of thousands of whom have been caught up in the floods.
While monsoon rains cause destruction across India every year, they have swept over the country with record speed in 2013. Where they have been channeled by the valleys of India’s Himalayan foothills, the downpours have been especially violent, destroying homes, vehicles and mobile-phone towers. Television channels have broadcast footage of apartment blocks collapsing into swollen rivers, and village streets full of debris and rock.
The most critically injured survivors will be rescued by the end of the day, Air Commodore Rajesh Isser said in a televised press conference from Dehradun, Uttarakhand’s capital, today. He said progress is slow because some helicopters can only accommodate three or four people.
More than 100 people were killed in Uttarakhand, Yashpal Arya, its minister for disaster management and rehabilitation said by phone yesterday. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the number of casualties is expected to rise as he announced a 10 billion-rupee ($167 million) relief package. More have died in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh.
So far, more than 15,000 people stranded along the route to a popular Sikh pilgrimage spot, Hemkund Sahib, have been evacuated to relief camps by air and road routes, the Press Trust of India reported, citing local police. Around Kedarnath, a town considered holy by Hindus, up to 90 rest houses for pilgrims may have been washed away, the news agency said. As many as 62,000 pilgrims may still be stuck across the region, the BBC reported.
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.