Police says the death toll in flash floods in Indian Kashmir rises to 85, nearly 340 injured

Friday, August 6, 2010

85 killed in flash floods in Indian Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India — The death toll has risen to 85 in flash floods that hit a major town in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s remote and mountainous Ladakh region.

State police chief Kuldeep Khoda says at least 340 others have been injured.

Communications to most parts of the region have been damaged so Khoda said Friday it is still unclear how many people have been left homeless.

The flooding caused by an overnight downpour has also damaged the region’s airport and washed away hundreds of homes in and around Leh, the main town in Ladakh.

The area is a high-altitude desert about 11,500 feet (3,500 meters) above sea level, and is popular with tourists. It normally experiences very low precipitation.

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 59 people in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh, officials said Friday.

At least 200 people were injured, and soldiers 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.

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. Police and paramilitary soldiers had pulled 59 bodies from flood-hit areas around Leh, he said.

“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 the area’s 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.

Operations had been stopped at Leh airport, where parts of the runway were washed away. Indian air force troopers were clearing the debris from the airstrip, Khoda said.

“At least 200 people are in the army hospital with injuries. And many more people are trapped under houses and buildings that have collapsed,” he said.

The flooding also damaged telephone towers and highways leading to the region, army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. 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.

Ladakh, about 280 miles (450 kilometers) east of Srinagar, is a popular destination for Western tourists and backpackers. It 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.

Prof. Shakeel Romshoo, a geologist at Kashmir University in Srinagar, said new rivulets had cut deep channels in the mountain gorges of the region 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.

Police, paramilitary troops and the army have launched a massive rescue operation in Leh, Khoda said.

“Our priority is to restore communication links with the region, even as rescue operations carry on,” 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.

Flood waters were pouring into the River Indus flowing into neighboring Pakistan, which has also been hit by devastating floods that have killed 1,500.

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