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Central & South Asia
Rains hamper Kashmir rescue effort
Search teams struggle in hunt for survivors after floods devastate remote region.
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2010 09:28 GMT
A massive rescue operation involving state police, paramilitary forces and army is under way [AFP]

Heavy rains have hampered efforts to reach victims of flash floods that devastated the Ladakh region of Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Residents of the town of Leh were wading through knee-deep mud in an attempt to find survivors on Saturday, while around 6,000 Indian troops had been brought in to help the search effort. 

At least 117 people have been killed and more than 300 injured by the floods, Farooq Ahmad, the Kashmir Range police inspector general, told Al Jazeera.

Hundreds more are still missing after floods and mudslides swept away homes across the region.

"The heavy rainfall is hampering our rescue and relief operations," Lieutenant Colonel J. S. Brar said.

The floods damaged highways leading to Leh town in many places, making it difficult for lorries with relief supplies to enter Ladakh.

"Roads have been washed away and wherever they are intact, sheets of mud have covered them making them difficult for use," Brar said.

But Ahmad told Al Jazeera that the Indian government, despite not being able to reach all of the flooded areas, does not need outside assistance.

"We have the werewithal and the manpower and the equipment that can deal with the situation," he said.

The main highway linking Leh to the nearby holiday resort of Manali was blocked by landslides. The only other highway linking Ladakh was partially open and vehicles waiting to cross had backed up for kilometres.

Poor weather made it impossible for helicopters to fly into Ladakh with relief supplies.

Al Jazeera's Prerna Suri, reporting from the regional capital of Srinagar, said the death toll will likely rise as rescue workers begin to reach far-flung villages.

But in and around Leh, she said, the scene was still one of chaos, with stranded citizens crammed into government shelters and makeshift hospitals.

"Since late last night, we've been seeing a change in the weather conditions and a change for the worse," Suri said. "The people there are simply cut off from the rest of the world".

Homes destroyed

Prompted by a cloudburst, the floods tore through parts of the town early Friday morning, damaging houses and government buildings. The district hospital and two buildings housing offices of the home ministry were also affected.

"I'm not worried about the property damage, because they can be compensated and replaced," Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said.

"Buildings can be rebuilt but we're really sorry about the lives which have been lost, and we're trying hard to rescue the people who may still be alive."

Some tourists were believed to have been affected by the floods, India's foreign ministry said, but gave no details of their condition.

Predominantly-Buddhist Ladakh is a high desert region in the southeastern part of Muslim-majority Kashmir that is not used to heavy precipitation. It is popular with foreign adventure tourists interested in high-altitude trekking and river-running.

"It's a sea of mud," Josh Schrei, a New York-based photographer on a trekking holiday in Ladakh, told The Associated Press news agency.

"A school building in Leh was buried under mud, with just the basketball hoop sticking out," he said.

"The bus station in the town was washed away and the area is covered in mud. Buses were everywhere. Some of the buses have been carried more than a mile by the mud."

The deluge came as neighbouring Pakistan suffered from the worst floodingin decades, killing more than 1,500 people and forcing millions from their homes.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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