India monsoon floods kill at least 64 people, leave thousands stranded
Updated 9 hours 58 minutes ago
At least 64 people are dead and tens of thousands have been left stranded after early monsoon rains caused flooding and landslides in India.
The rains are at least twice as heavy as usual in north-west and central India, with the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand the worst hit.
The Indian Air Force has scrambled a dozen helicopters to reinforce a military-backed rescue mission in Uttarakhand, often referred to as the “Land of the Gods” because of its many Hindu religious sites.
Local government officials in the state capital Dehradun say they are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.
“So far, we have found 54 bodies and 17 others are still missing,” top disaster management official Piush Rautela told AFP.
“The situation is really very bad out there. More than 600 buildings have toppled or been swept away and there are 75,000 people including pilgrims stranded at various places.”
Among the dead in Uttarakhand state are four members of the same family, who died when their home was hit by a landslide as they slept.
The rains have washed away bridges, roads, houses and multi-storey buildings in the state.
Rising water levels in some towns have also swept away cars, earthmoving equipment and even a parked helicopter.
A giant statue of Lord Shiva was submerged up to its head in the tourist hub of Rishikesh.
Roads in many areas have been destroyed, leaving hundreds of pilgrims stranded on their way to visit shrines in remote areas.
Authorities have cancelled pilgrimage trips, fearing further rains and landslides in the state.
“Right now our priority is to save as many lives as possible and the scale of destruction will be assessed later,” Mr Rautela said.
Missions underway to help thousands of stranded people
Air Force helicopters have air-dropped commandos to help rescue some of the 50,000 people who are stranded.
The Uttarakhand district has also set up 32 camps to provide food and water, while the state government is readying food parcels and drinking water to be dropped by helicopters to remote villages.
In neighbouring Himachal Pradesh state, the death toll from rain-related accidents stands at 10.
Around 1,500 people, including 150 foreign tourists, are stranded in the state.
In the eastern state of Orissa, flash floods have destroyed at least 600 homes.
The monsoon, which India’s farming sector depends on, covers the subcontinent from June to September, usually bringing some flooding.
But the heavy rains arrived early this year, catching many by surprise.
The country has received 68 per cent more rain than normal for this time of year, data from the India Meteorological Department shows.
The weather is expected to ease next week.