DEHRADUN, India: Thousands of Indian soldiers battled on Thursday to reach villages and towns cut off by flash floods and landslides in the country’s north as officials warned at least 1,000 people may have been killed.
Helicopters and close to 10,000 soldiers have been deployed to reach tourists and pilgrims stranded after floods caused by torrential monsoon rains hit the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand at the weekend.
Houses, buildings and vehicles have collapsed or been swept away by flooding rivers and landslides, while bridges and narrow roads have also been destroyed, leaving some 65,000 people stranded mainly at remote pilgrimage sites, officials said.
Torrential rains four and a half times as heavy as usual have hit Uttarakhand, known as the “Land of the Gods,” where Hindu shrines and temples built high in the mountains attract many pilgrims.
One of those stranded was Indian cricket star Harbhajan Singh, who was attempting to reach a Sikh pilgrimage site but had to take refuge in a police station.
At least 138 people have been killed across Uttarakhand and two neighboring states also hit by floods and landslides, officials said, but shrine authorities warned the toll was more than 1,000.
“We estimate more than 1,000 people have died as unattended bodies are scattered all around,” said Ganesh Godiyal, chairman of a trust in charge of several shrines in the pilgrimage towns of Kedarnath and Badrinath.