LEH, India: Rescuers resumed their search yesterday for survivors from flash floods which killed over 130 people and left hundreds missing in a part of Indian Kashmir favoured by adventure sports tourists.
Tourists — who had travelled to the Himalayan area of Ladakh for whitewater rafting and other sports — joined soldiers and Buddhist monks in the operation, spending the night pulling out dead and injured from flattened buildings.
“Our total so far is 132 people dead and it could rise. We have many people who are missing,” said a senior police official told AFP in Leh, the main town in the majority Buddhist Ladakh area.
More than 400 people were injured and thousands left homeless in the disaster, which came as India’s neighbour Pakistan was swamped by its worst-ever floods with millions displaced and at least 1,600 dead.
A further 150 people were unaccounted for in Choglumsar, the worst-hit village on the outskirts of Leh, said the police officer, asking not to be identified.
Rescuers wading through knee-deep mud were also looking for more than 100 labourers missing from Shyong village, the officer said, while at least 25 soldiers were missing after the floods washed away several army posts.
India’s NDTV network reported at least 400 people were missing.
Floodwaters triggered by a freak cloudburst tore through the region early Friday, flattening buildings, overturning vehicles, toppling utility poles and creating a sea of mud.
There were no foreigners reported among the dead although one foreigner suffered minor injuries when a powerful two-metre wall of water, mud and sand smashed into the Leh area as people slept early Friday.
The federal government said at least half a dozen commercial flights would operate from Leh yesterday to evacuate stranded tourists.
The flash floods made the devastated Leh area, which lies 3,500 metres above sea level, look as though it had been struck by an earthquake, witnesses said.
“Our immediate priority is to look for survivors,” said state tourism minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who was directing rescue efforts in Leh which lies in a mountainous area in the southeastern part of Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The floods struck without warning in the normally arid region which shares a sensitive border with China, prompting a large Indian military presence.
Civilian doctors were operating in the main army hospital as the Leh Civil Hospital “has been filled with mud”, said army spokesman Sitanshu Kar.
Indian air force planes made five sorties, flying in medicine, doctors and food for victims of the devastation, an official spokesman said.
Shops in a newly built market in Leh were transformed into temporary mortuaries where rescuers laid out bodies.
“Unclaimed bodies are piling up,” a police officer said.
Farooq Shah, the region’s director of tourism, said the situation would become clearer in couple of days as some tourists had travelled to remote villages now cut off by the devastation.
Up to 3,000 tourists, including foreigners, were staying in Leh but none of the major hotels suffered serious damage, Leh tourism official Nissar Hussain said. — AFP