Flash floods kill 103 in Indian-held Kashmir

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SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A sudden downpour and flash floods swept away houses and killed at least 103 people in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh, officials said Friday.

At least 370 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 not clear how many people have been left homeless, but Mr. 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.

Mr.r 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 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 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, Col. 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, Col. Brar said. Floods had badly affected villages within a 60-square mile radius of Choglamsar, he said.

The floods damaged highways leading to Leh, making it difficult for trucks with relief supplies to enter Ladakh and tourists to get out of the area.

“Roads have been washed away and wherever they are intact, sheets of mud have covered them making them difficult for use,” Brar said.

At least three army bases were hit by flood waters. Two soldiers were missing and nearly 14 were injured, Col. Brar said. Mr. 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 above sea level. It normally experiences very low precipitation.

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