At least 130 people have been killed and 70,000 others left stranded in devastating flash floods to hit northern India, private television channel NDTV has reported.
The channel said on Wednesday that thousands of houses in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh had been swept away in the floods and authorities were using helicopters to evacuate people and drop essential food supplies.
Northern India has witnessed torrential rains at least three times more than usual over the past week ever since the annual monsoon broke a fortnight ahead of schedule, leaving thousands of pilgrims and tourists stranded, officials said.
“The state government and the army are trying to rescue thousands of tourists who are stranded near the submerged valleys and Hindu shrines,” said Jaspal Arya, the disaster relief minister of Uttarakhand.
Arya said portions of the famous Hindu temple, Kedarnath, were washed away on Tuesday and about 10,000 pilgrims were in need of rescuing.
But many are still stuck and it could take us three more days to rescue all of them
“The Kedarnath temple is submerged in mud and slush. We just hope that it does not collapse,” Arya told the AFP news agency.
Authorities have cancelled pilgrimage trips, fearing further rains and landslides in the state, often referred to as the “Land of the Gods” because of its many Hindu temples and Hindu religious sites.
Officials in Uttarakhand, the worst-hit state, said about 200 cars, two earthmoving equipment and even a parked helicopter had been swept away by floods.
The torrential rains began lashing the region on Saturday and local officials said 40 relief camps had been set up to provide food and water to locals and tourists.
On Tuesday, 250 people were rescued by air force helicopters from different parts of the state and many were moved to the relief camps.
“But many are still stuck and it could take us three more days to rescue all of them,” Arya added.
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 and exposing the country’s lack of preparedness.