World News : 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.
Some 1,400 people have been evacuated in the past 24 hours as the military takes advantage of clearer weather, but another 18,000 are still stranded, the air force said.
“Our priority is to take out the children and women first by helicopter,” said Ajay Chadha, chief of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.
“We hope to rescue all the living and then start the scavenging task,” Chadha said in New Delhi, referring to the task of finding the dead.
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.
“There are some 3,000 of us stuck in Gangotri (a pilgrimage site) for the past few days and there is no food, no drinking water or assurances from the government,” a pilgrim, Parwinder Singh, told CNN-IBN by telephone.
“It is very difficult to move from here,” he added.
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.