Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Flood Toll Reaches 1,000 in India, Thousands More Await Rescue

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Flood Toll Reaches 1,000 in India, Thousands More Await Rescue

Article excerpt

NEW DELHI -- Flash floods and landslides in northern India have killed at least 1,000 people in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand in the past week, an official said Saturday, and with thousands missing or stranded the toll was expected to rise.

The official, Vijay Bahuguna, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, confirmed the latest toll in a meeting with reporters. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told the Indian news media on Saturday that 40,000 people were still stranded, and he described the floods as a "national crisis."

Most of the stranded were people on a pilgrimage known as Char Dham Yatra, which takes Hindus to four of the holiest shrines in Uttarakhand between May and November.

To aid rescue efforts in narrow mountainous valleys at altitudes as high as 11,000 feet above sea level, members of the Indian military have been pressed into service. By Saturday, the rivers and streams that run through the state had receded, but the floods had destroyed roads, bridges, electrical poles and communication networks.

More than 40 helicopters were being used to rescue pilgrims from remote mountainous areas, according to Indian officials, but the terrain hampered the operations. A rescue helicopter crashed Friday while trying to evacuate pilgrims trapped in a village near Kedarnath in Uttarakhand. The pilot was injured and was being treated at a hospital, police officials told the news agency Press Trust of India.

Families throughout India were frantically trying to track down their missing relatives.

"Four of my friends, who are priests, are missing," said Naresh Kukreti, 34, a priest at the Kedarnath temple, one of the holiest shrines of Hinduism. "We don't know whether they are alive or dead."

Mr. Kukreti said Saturday that after the ritual evening prayer last Sunday, he had been filled with unease. "It had been raining for two days, and fewer pilgrims were visiting the temple," he said. "Suddenly a deafening noise shook everything," he said. …

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