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India floods: Death toll in Uttarakhand ‘passes 500’

_68312787_018391860-1 _68316008_68314703BBC

The death toll from flooding and landslides following heavy monsoon rains in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand has passed 500.

The state’s Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna, said 556 bodies had been seen floating or buried in “slush”, and that the army was working to recover them.

The charity Action Aid says 5,000 people are missing in the area.

Many of those stranded in the mountainous region are Hindu pilgrims visiting local shrines.

The worst affected area is around the holy town of Kedarnath.

The Kedarnath Temple, high up in the Garhwal Himalaya, is a site of pilgrimage for Hindus

The Indian Army is leading rescue efforts. The authorities say troops have yet to reach some remote mountain areas.

Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said more than 33,000 pilgrims had been rescued in the past few days, but at least 50,000 people were still stranded.

Earlier on Friday, 40 bodies were recovered from the river Ganges in the temple town of Haridwar, according to local police official Rajiv Swaroop.

Haridwar is downstream from the region where heavy rains on Sunday night triggered flash floods and landslides.

_68277278_img_2138Flood-related deaths have also been reported in Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh states and neighbouring Nepal.

The monsoon season generally lasts from June to September, bringing rain which is critical to farming, but this year the rain in the north of India and parts of Nepal has been far heavier than usual.


State Agriculture Minister Harak Singh Rawat, who had visited the Kedarnath area, described the floods as the “worst tragedy of the millennium”.

“It will take us at least five years to recover from the extensive damages caused to the entire infrastructure network in the Kedarnath area which is the worst affected,” the Press Trust of India quoted him as saying.

Mr Rawat said he was “shocked” to see the extent of the damage caused to the buildings and area adjoining the shrine.

“The centre of faith has turned into a burial ground. Bodies are scattered in the area. Only the sanctum sanctorum is intact,” he added.

The temple committee of the Kedarnath shrine has appealed for donations following the disaster, to “revive the glory” of the “most sacred temple”.

Officials say the rains in Uttarakhand have been the heaviest in 60 years and the floods have flattened hotels and homes and washed away roads and dozens of bridges.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the situation there as “distressing” and announced a 10bn rupee ($170m; £127m) aid package for the state.

Flood survivors have been evacuated to the state capital Dehradun, where relatives of those missing await news.

Dehradun is also the base for the relief effort, from where rescue workers, medicines and food are being flown to the flood-hit areas.

Google has opened up its person finder tool in Hindi and English to help trace missing people in Uttarakhand.

India’s National Disaster Management Authority has published control room phone numbers for flood-affected districts.

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