Death toll from monsoon flooding in India nears 600
Rescuers have found bodies in the River Ganges and in the muddy earth left by landslides, raising the death toll from monsoon flooding in mountainous northern India to nearly 600, officials say.
The air force dropped paratroopers, food and medicine for people trapped in up to 100 towns and villages cut off since Sunday in the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand where thousands of people are stranded, many of them Hindu pilgrims who were visiting four shrines in the area.
Uttrakhand state Chief Minister Vijay Bahguna said 556 bodies have been seen buried deep in slush and the army was trying to recover them.
Rescuers also found 40 bodies floating in the Ganges near Haridwar, a Hindu holy city, said police.
Officials said the eventual toll might reach the thousands.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters in New Delhi that 34,000 people have been evacuated so far and another 50,000 were stranded in the region. Roads and bridges were washed away by the floods or blocked by debris.
The rescue operation centred on evacuating nearly 27,000 people trapped in the worst-hit Kedarnath temple area – one of the holiest Hindu temples.
Soldiers and other workers reopened dozens of roads by building makeshift bridges, accelerating the evacuation. More than 2,000 vehicles carrying stranded Hindu pilgrims have moved out of the area.
Thirty-six air force helicopters have been ferrying rescue workers, doctors, equipment, food and medicine to Kedarnath, the town closest to many of those stranded.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people looking for relatives demonstrated in Dehradun, the Uttrakhand state capital, where flood survivors were taken by helicopters.
They complained that the government was taking too long to evacuate the survivors, with small helicopters bringing in four to five people at a time.