DEHRADUN, India: Military helicopters dropped emergency supplies on Wednesday to thousands of tourists and pilgrims stranded by flash floods that tore through towns and temples in northern India, killing at least 120 people, officials said.
Thousands of people have already been evacuated after floods and landslides caused by early monsoon rains forged a path of devastation through two tourist states in the Himalayas, officials said.
“As of now we know that over 65,000 people are stranded,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters in New Delhi.
“We are committed to rescuing everyone now that the rains have stopped,” the minister said, adding that the army has evacuated 5,000 people cut off by the downpour.
Torrential rains at least three times as heavy as usual have hit the state of Uttarakhand, often called the “Land of the Gods,” whose Hindu shrines and temples built high in the mountains attract many pilgrims.
Houses, multi-storied buildings, cars, bridges as well as roads have been swept away or badly damaged after rivers burst their banks, forcing authorities to deploy helicopters to evacuate people and drop essential food supplies.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and president of the country’s ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, will later Wednesday fly over the disaster area to survey the extent of the damage.
“At least 110 people have died. The state government and the army are trying to rescue thousands of tourists who are stranded near the submerged valleys and Hindu shrines,” said Yashpal Arya, the disaster relief minister of Uttarakhand.
Arya said portions of a well-known Hindu temple have been washed away, leaving about 10,000 pilgrims stranded.
“The Kedarnath temple is submerged in mud and slush. We just hope that it does not collapse,” Arya told Agence France-Presse.
Authorities fear the death toll could rise dramatically, with emergency workers still unable to reach villages cut off by the floods and landslides, five days after the rains hit on Saturday.