Floods kill 132 in Kashmir, hundreds missing

LEH, India (AFP) – Rescuers waded through mud to seek survivors Saturday after floods caused by freak rains killed more than 130 people and left hundreds missing in a part of Indian Kashmir popular for adventure sports.

Nearly 300 people were missing, police said, after floodwaters left a trail of destruction Friday in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, flattening buildings, overturning vehicles, toppling utility poles and creating a sea of mud.

“Our total so far is 132 people dead and it could rise. We have many people who are missing,” a senior police official said, asking not to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

No foreigners were reported among the dead while just one foreigner suffered minor injuries, according to officials.

More than 150 people were unaccounted for in Choglumsar, the worst-hit village on the outskirts of Leh, the main town in the majority Buddhist area, the officer said.

Rescuers 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.

“Our immediate priority is to look for survivors,” said state tourism minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who was directing rescue efforts in Leh.

Thousands of Indian soldiers, Buddhist monks, and tourists who had travelled to the area for white-water rafting and other adventure sports joined in the rescue efforts, bringing out dead and injured from the rubble.

More than 400 people were injured in the floods, triggered by a cloudburst which struck without warning in the region which shares a sensitive border with China and has a large Indian military presence.

Thousands more were left homeless in the disaster, which came as India’s neighbour Pakistan was swamped by its worst-ever floods.

Indian air force planes made five sorties, flying in medicines, doctors and food for victims of the devastation, an official spokesman said.

The government is seeking “to give treatment to the people injured and cater to the needs of those displaced by the tragedy,” federal Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters in Leh.

Civilian doctors were operating in the main army hospital as the Leh Civil Hospital “has been filled with mud,” said army spokesman Sitanshu Kar.

A powerful six-foot (two-metre) wall of water, mud and sand smashed into the area as people slept early Friday, making it look “like it was bombed,” R.S. Raina, who works for state broadcaster Doordarshan in Leh, told AFP.

Shops in a newly built market in Leh were transformed into temporary mortuaries where rescuers laid out bodies.

“Unclaimed bodies are piling,” a police officer said. “Those bodies which are claimed are immediately cremated or buried.”

Farooq Shah, the region’s director of tourism, said only one foreign tourist was known to have been injured and was out of danger.

But he 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. Private airlines resumed operations, allowing some tourists to leave.

Rescuers waded through knee-deep mud in an effort to reach victims trapped in collapsed buildings. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who have a strong presence in Leh, said in a statement they had rescued 100 people on Saturday.

The mountainous area in the southeastern part of Muslim-majority Kashmir is a favourite destination for foreign adventure tourists.

Leh lies 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) above sea level and is in a usually arid part of Indian Kashmir where heavy rainfall is uncommon.

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