India’s military is working to evacuate thousands still stranded in the foothills of the Himalayas after torrential rains triggered flash floods that have killed more than 500 people.
Narrow valleys in mountainous northern India, where shrines had lured tens of thousands of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims, remained cut off five days after torrents surged through rocky canyons. Helicopters continued to drop supplies in Uttarakhand state after roads were swept away.
As many as 556 dead bodies have been recovered and more may be buried under debris, CNN-IBN television channel reported yesterday citing Vijay Bahuguna, chief minister of Uttarakhand.
“I have come here to review the situation,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters today as he visited the region. “We are having regular meeting over the crisis situation. Our paramilitary forces are carrying out relief operation.”
So far, about 34,000 people have been evacuated and efforts are continuing to rescue those still stranded, he said yesterday in New Delhi.
While the monsoon causes destruction across India every year, the rains moved over the country with record speed in 2013. Downpours channeled by steep-sided and deforested valleys have generated especially violent floods, washing away homes, vehicles and mobile-phone towers. Television networks have broadcast footage of buildings collapsing into raging rivers and village streets filled with debris and rocks.
Sonia Gandhi, 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 yesterday. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said June 20 that as many as 1,000 people may have died.
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.
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, the state has received almost four times the usual rainfall this month, causing rivers to burst their banks.
The nation’s army and air force have deployed more than 8,000 troops, including medical teams and engineers, to clear roads blocked by landslides and construct temporary bridges to help reach survivors.
Vital to Farms
India’s monsoon accounts for about 70 percent of the rainfall vital to the country’s agriculture-driven economy. Rains since the monsoon began June 1 have been 42 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 by monsoon rains during India’s 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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