June 21 (Bloomberg) -- Flash floods triggered by torrential rain in northern India have killed hundreds of people as the military tries to evacuate 50,000 others still stranded in mountainous areas.
The death toll has surged above 500, the Associated Press reported, as narrow valleys in the foothills of the Himalayas, whose shrines had lured tens of thousands of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims, remained cut off four days after torrents surged through rocky canyons. Helicopters continued to drop supplies in Uttarakhand state after roads were swept away.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde will visit the region tomorrow. Debris in many areas in Uttarakhand has yet to be cleared. So far, about 34,000 people have been evacuated and efforts are continuing to rescue those still stranded.
While the monsoon causes destruction across India every year, they have moved over the country with record speed in 2013. Where they’ve been channeled by steep-sided and deforested valleys, the downpours have been especially violent. Homes and mobile-phone towers have been destroyed, vehicles washed away. Television networks have broadcast footage of buildings collapsing into raging rivers, and village streets filled with debris and rock.
Sonia Gandhi, the 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 today. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said yesterday that as many as 1,000 people may have died.
The government appointed a former home secretary, V.K. Duggal, to coordinate the response amid criticism of its effectiveness, the Press Trust of India reported citing Shinde.
Religious shrines in Uttarakhand, which abuts India’s border with China to the west of Nepal, attract Hindu and Sikh pilgrims each summer. With a population of about 10 million people, the state has received almost four times the usual rainfall so far this month, causing rivers to burst their banks.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said June 19 the number of casualties is expected to rise as he announced a 10 billion rupee ($167 million) relief package.
The nation’s army and air force have deployed more than 8,000 troops, including medical teams and engineers. They are working to clear roads blocked by landslides and construct temporary bridges to help reach survivors.
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 48 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.
In 2007, more than 2,800 people were killed in India by monsoon rains during the 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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