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Flash floods and landslides in India kill thousands, rains stall rescue effort

Soldiers rescue stranded people after heavy rains in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand
Soldiers rescue stranded people after heavy rains in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand

Early monsoon rains in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand have led to a series of flash floods and landslides. Over 1,000 people are already dead, more than 10,000 people are stranded and the rains that will continue for the next few days are keeping rescue workers away. Though it is likely much worse.

The estimated 1,000 deaths by India’s home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, is believed to be very conservative, says the New York Times’s Basharat Peer.

“It was widely feared that the dead would number in the thousands. The Indian government was making preparations for mass cremations of the victims,” the NY Times reported.

Unusually early monsoon rains mean that thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims who would have otherwise not been in the region were caught by the natural disasters.

J.P. Semwal and his wife and two children walked the twelve miles to the town of Guptkashi in order to escape from the deteriorating conditions.

“We followed the bodies that littered the route because we knew the bodies were of those who tried to escape earlier to safety,” Semwal, 65, told AFP.

Indian soldiers attempts to airlift people from the worst-hit areas were rebuffed by heavy clouds and rains.

“We are just waiting for the weather to clear up and visibility to improve before the aircraft can take off,” said R.S. Brar, an air force official in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand, to the AP.

The 80,000 or so people already rescued faced harsh conditions including lack of shelter and food. The thousands who remain are facing similar conditions are at risk of harm. As many as 15,000 people remain stranded.

“Most of the communities are taking shelter in buildings that are kind of precariously standing there. There is no food, no water and there is a big need for medical help,” said Latha Caleb, head of Save the Children’s India operations, to VOA.

Efforts were focused on clearing roads and bridges so that rescue workers and military can enter affected regions, but landslides blocked a pair of roads cleared by military late last week, reports the AP.

Indian authorities have come under criticism for what some call an inadequate response. V.K. Duggal, a senior official of the National Disaster Management Authority in New Delhi, responded to critics in VOA by refuting claims that the NDMA has been slow to respond.

“Really speaking there are no major gaps in coordination. And all agencies are doing their very best to make sure that the relief and rescue operations moves smoothly and at as good a speed as possible,” Duggal said. “There may be some impediments of weather, this, that, but when you have a problem of this massive size, at the operational level, there will be some pluses and minuses.”

The Indian Tibetan Border Police managed to rescue over 1,500 today. Once the rain stops within the next few days, rescue efforts will resume at full capacity and a truer understanding of the devesation will be gains. Then there will be addressing the long term damage caused by the disaster. Latest counts estimate more than 1,000 bridges damaged, thousands of homes swept away and roads destroyed.

“We have to rebuild roads, electricity towers and all the basic infrastructure. It will take about 3 years to restore everything,” said Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna to the Press Trust of India.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]