Police say death toll in flash floods in Indian Kashmir rises to 103, more than 370 injured

Friday, August 6, 2010

103 killed in flash floods in Indian Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India — The death toll in flashfloods that hit the remote mountainous region of Ladakh in Indian-held Kashmir has risen to 103.

State police chief Kuldeep Khoda said Friday more than 370 others have been injured.

Police and paramilitary soldiers have pulled out hundreds of people from the mud and debris that have buried hundreds of homes but their efforts were hampered by gushing water and mud sweeping down from the steep mountainsides.

Telecommunication towers have toppled or are badly damaged while main highways connecting the popular tourist destination to the rest of Kashmir were only partially open.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A sudden overnight downpour and flash floods swept away houses and killed at least 85 people in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh, officials said Friday.

At least 340 people were injured, and troops were pulling survivors from knee-deep mud and rubble Friday in the popular Himalayan tourist destination. The deluge came as neighboring Pakistan suffered from the worst flooding in decades, with millions displaced and 1,500 dead.

The airport in Leh, the main town in Ladakh, was damaged, most communications were cut and rescue efforts were being hampered by gushing water and debris, state police chief Kuldeep Khoda said.

It was still unclear how many people have been left homeless, but Khoda said at least 2,000 displaced people had been housed in two government-run shelters.

“Mud and water is everywhere,” said Kashmiri businessman Kausar Makhdoomi, who was on holiday in Leh.

Makhdoomi said the rainfall started before midnight and that water later started coursing down mountains. The flooding had damaged several homes and other buildings by Friday morning, he said.

“There was utter confusion and people started to panic,” he said.

Ladakh, about 280 miles (450 kilometers) east of Srinagar, is a popular destination for Western tourists, particularly hikers, mountaineers and adventure sports enthusiasts. August is peak season with thousands flocking to the area.

Troops have rescued at least 100 foreign tourists, mostly Europeans, from Pang, a village about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Leh town, army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said. No tourist deaths have so far been reported.

The flooding also damaged telephone towers and highways leading to the region, Brar said in Srinagar, the main city in India’s portion of Kashmir.

One of the worst hit areas was low-lying Choglamsar village on the outskirts of Leh, where houses and buildings have been swept away and soldiers were pulling survivors from mud, Brar said. Floods had badly affected villages within a 60-square mile (150 sq. kilometer) radius of Choglamsar, he said.

At least three army bases were hit by flood waters. Two soldiers were missing and nearly 14 were injured, Brar said. Khoda said that at least three policemen had been killed during rescue operations.

Ladakh is a high-altitude desert, with a stark moonscape-like terrain, about 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) above sea level. It normally experiences very low precipitation.

A largely Buddhist area, it has been untouched by two months of anti-India civil unrest by Kashmiri Muslims that has gripped large swaths of Indian Kashmir for nearly two months. At least 49 people have died in the violence.

Explaining the devastating impact of the sudden rains, Prof. Shakeel Romshoo, a geologist at Kashmir University in Srinagar, said new rivulets had cut deep channels in the mountain gorges and flood waters had inundated low-lying areas.

“It’s a challenging topography with steep and unstable slopes. Water flow and velocity being very high, the flash floods have caused huge damage,” he said.

Telecommunication towers across the region have either fallen or been badly damaged. The main highway linking Leh to the nearby holiday resort of Manali was blocked by landslides. Poor weather has made it impossible for even helicopters to fly into Ladakh with relief supplies.

Khoda said police and the army have launched a massive rescue operation but were also trying to restore communications.

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