1,000 feared dead in Indian monsoon as army mobilises

DEHRADUN: India's military battled on Thursday to reach villages and towns cut off by flash floods and landslides in the country's north as officials warned at least 1,000 people may have been killed.

Helicopters and close to 10,000 soldiers have been deployed to rescue tourists and pilgrims stranded after floods caused by torrential monsoon rains hit the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand at the weekend.

More than 22,400 people have so far been rescued, as the military takes advantage of clearer weather, but another 62,000 are still stranded, the Home Ministry said in a statement.

Houses, buildings and vehicles have collapsed or been swept away by overflowing rivers and landslides, while bridges and narrow roads leading to pilgrimage towns have also been destroyed, officials said.

Torrential rains four and a half times as heavy as usual have hit Uttarakhand, known as the “Land of the Gods”, where Hindu shrines and temples built high in the mountains attract many pilgrims.

At least 138 people have been killed across Uttarakhand and two neighbouring states also hit by floods and landslides, officials said, but shrine authorities warned the toll was more than 1,000.

“We estimate more than 1,000 people have died as unattended bodies are scattered all around,” said Ganesh Godiyal, chairman of a trust in charge of several shrines in the pilgrimage towns of Kedarnath and Badrinath.

Over the border in Nepal, floods and landslides also triggered by the monsoon have left at least 39 people dead mostly in remote parts of the country, officials said.

The military operation was concentrating on reaching the worst-hit Kedarnath temple area, as families of the missing faced an anxious wait in Uttarakhand capital's Dehradun.

One of those stranded was Indian cricket star Harbhajan Singh, who was attempting to reach a Sikh pilgrimage site but had to take refuge in a police station.

“Some people are saying that we're stuck but I wouldn't say that we're stuck, I'd say we've been saved by God,” said the spin bowler, who was later flown out of the flood-hit area by military chopper.

Indian paramilitary officers have been building rope and log bridges across raging rivers to try to reach those stranded.

Relief camps have been set up to house evacuated residents and tourists.

Some 22 helicopters are ferrying many of those rescued to the camps, while 14 tonnes of food and relief aid has been dropped in remote areas, the air force and the government said.

The monsoon, which covers the subcontinent from June to September, usually brings some flooding.

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