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Floods, landslides in India kill 1,000 and strand 8,000

By Agencies in Gauchar, India | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-25 07:00

Floods, landslides in India kill 1,000 and strand 8,000

Pedestrians run from water splashing over a sea wall in Mumbai on Monday. Officials have warned that the death toll could rise as floodwaters recede. Punit Paranjpe / Agence France-Presse

Around 1,000 people have been killed in flash floods and landslides in northern India, as heavy rains halted the search on Monday for thousands of tourists still stranded in the devastated Himalayan regions, officials said.

Indian priests were preparing to cremate hundreds of victims of the disaster even as 8,000 mainly pilgrims and tourists were still awaiting rescue nine days after flash floods and landslides hit the state of Uttarakhand.

"The official information with us is that about 1,000 people have died," said Yashpal Arya, the state's disaster relief minister.

Senior officials warned that the death toll could rise as floodwaters recede and debris is cleared by emergency workers, showing the full extent of the disaster in the mountainous region, known as the "Land of the Gods" for its revered Hindu shrines.

Army officials suspended rescue operations after bad weather early on Monday reduced visibility in the mountainous area. Troops are attempting to rescue more than 10,000 stranded people, many in the temple town of Badrinath.

Two landslides early on Monday blocked roads that had been cleared by soldiers only a few days earlier.

"We are just waiting for the weather to clear up and visibility to improve before the aircraft can take off," said R.S. Brar, an air force official in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand.

"We can only use the helicopters when the weather is clear. Rescue work can only resume when rains stop," said a senior army official in New Delhi.

Soldiers along with police have been using harnesses and erecting rope bridges across flooded rivers as part of efforts to move people to safety.

Meteorological officials predicted more heavy rain in Uttarakhand over the next few days.

Raging rivers have swept away houses, buildings and even entire villages in the state, which was packed with travelers in what is a peak tourist season. More than 1,000 bridges have been damaged along with roads, cutting off hard-hit villages and towns.

Rowing ordeal

A doctor recounted a harrowing ordeal of walking with his family for 20 kilometers at night on a road strewn with bodies trapped under rocks from landslides to try to escape the devastation.

J.P. Semwal and his wife and two children trekked from the town of Kedarnath to another town from where they were airlifted to Dehradun.

"We followed the bodies that littered the route because we knew the bodies were of those who tried to escape earlier to safety," said Semwal, 65.

"There were landslides behind us as we walked in pitch darkness and finally reached Guptkashi. We were saved by the grace of God."

Preparations were under way for a mass cremation in the holy town of Kedarnath and elsewhere, with rescue workers ordered to collect tons of firewood, amid concerns of an outbreak of disease from rotting bodies, officials said.

"The priests of temples have been requested to participate in the final rites," said disaster management official K.N. Pandey.

A group of 14 Spanish mountaineers stuck for four nights in heavy snow at Kalindi Pass high in the Himalayas were reported to be among those rescued and airlifted to the state capital Dehradun.

The climbers were just below the pass at 5,946 meters when they were pinned down by snow, the Times of India said.

AFP-Reuters

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