Monsoon floods kill 86 in India, strand pilgrims
By BISWAJEET BANERJEE
LUCKNOW, India (AP) -- A joint army and air force operation has evacuated nearly 12,000 Hindu pilgrims stranded in a mountainous area by torrential monsoon rains and landslides in northern India, but nearly 63,000 people remain cut off, a senior official said Wednesday.
The death toll in the affected region totaled 86, according to official statements.
Air force spokeswoman Priya Joshi said 18 helicopters dropped food packets and other relief supplies in addition to ferrying stranded tourists. More than 5,000 soldiers helped bring thousands of homeless people to relief camps and provided them with food and medical supplies.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said at least 69 people have died since Sunday in Uttrakhand state as flooding washed away roads and nearly two dozen bridges and demolished 365 homes.
Another 46 people were injured and 22 were missing, according to a statement by the state government.
Another 17 deaths in house collapses were reported since Sunday in Uttar Pradesh state, which borders Uttrakhand, said R.L. Vishwakarma, a state police officer.
Flooding is an annual occurrence in India, which depends on monsoon rains to sustain agriculture. But the heavy downpours also cause the loss of lives and property.
Most of those stranded are Hindu pilgrims to four revered shrines in the region. Nearly 600 people were evacuated by air force helicopters and the rest by the army using land routes.
"We are fully engaged in rescuing people who have been stranded in the higher reaches," Uttrakhand state minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters.
A three-story apartment building toppled into a river on Sunday and was carried away by the flood waters, said Amit Chandola, a Uttrakhand government spokesman. The government also said 40 small hotels on the banks of the Mandakini river in the Gaurikund area were destroyed by the swift-moving current.
Chandola said a helicopter on its landing pad also was swept away by flood waters.
Describing the situation as grim, Bahuguna said his administration was not equipped to tackle such a massive disaster and asked for federal assistance. The region is 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.
Flooding has also hit the Indian capital, New Delhi, where authorities sounded an alert Wednesday as waters of the flooded Yamuna River entered houses in low-lying areas.
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