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India floods death toll soars to 1,000

Army suspends rescue helicopter flights in Uttarakhand state due to dense fog as death toll rises.

Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013 06:02
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Army officials said bad weather has hampered efforts to evacuate thousands of people stranded in northern India where nearly 1,000 people are reported dead in monsoon flooding and landslides.

Officials and authorities in the affected state of Uttarakhand on Sunday said the death toll could rise, with the one minister telling Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman that the number could be up to 5,000. 

Brigadier Uma Maheshwar said on Sunday that the army had suspended helicopter flights to rescue people stranded in the state after dense fog descended on the Himalayan region.

Instead, troops built makeshift bridges and people were being brought to safety by road.

Thousands of people were still stranded in remote mountain valleys in Uttarakhand, a popular pilgrimage destination, trapped in up to 100 towns and villages cut off since Sunday.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that 34,000 people have been evacuated so far but 50,000 were still stranded in the region.

Al Jazeera's Sohail Rahman, reporting from Dehradun, the Uttrakhand state capital, said that there are villages that are completely submerged and that access to roadways is becoming a major issue for the military, who are in the process of clearing it up.

Kedarnath temple

Uttrakhand government spokesman Amit Chandola said the rescue operation centered on evacuating nearly 27,000 people trapped in the worst-hit Kedarnath temple area - one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The temple escaped major damage, but debris covered the area around it and television images showed the bodies of pilgrims strewn around the area.

Deadly floods strand tens of thousands of Indians

More than 2,000 vehicles carrying stranded Hindu pilgrims have moved out of the area since late on Thursday, he said.

Thirty-six air force helicopters had been ferrying rescue workers, doctors, equipment, food and medicine to Kedarnath, the town closest to many of those stranded, said Priya Joshi, an air force spokeswoman.

Zubin Zaman, humanitarian programme manager for Oxfam India, told Al Jazeera from Kolkata that there was still a lack of drinking water, food aid and power, and that the scale of response from the government needed to be improved.

Another seven aircraft carried paratroopers and fuel to the region.

Hundreds of people looking for relatives demonstrated in Dehradun where flood survivors were taken by helicopters.

They complained that the government was taking too long to evacuate the survivors, with small helicopters bringing in four to five people at a time.

Jasveer Kaur, a 50-year-old housewife, said she and her family survived by taking shelter in a Sikh shrine, which withstood the flood, located in Govind Dham.

"There was destruction all around," said Kaur after she was evacuated by an air force helicopter. "It was a nightmare."

Sehjo Singh, programme and policy director for Action Aid, told Al Jazeera from New Delhi that rescue efforts and media reports are focused on tourists and pilgrims and locals have complained that they are being ignored.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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