500 still missing in Leh, stranded tourists flown out (Roundup)

August 8th, 2010 - 10:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar/Jammu/New Delhi, Aug 8 (IANS) Over 500 people, including a Spanish tourist and 20 Army soldiers, were missing Sunday, two days after a cloudburst caused flash floods in Jammu and Kashmir’s Leh town, claiming at least 132 lives and causing widespread destruction.
Four Air India flights reached the town Sunday to evacuate stranded passengers, most of them foreigners, while the Indian Air Force sent more planes with relief supplies.

Inspector General of Police (Kashmir zone) Farooq Ahmad said the 111 bodies identified so far do not include any foreigner. The rescue teams have fanned out to six villages near Leh that had not yet been reached during the relief operations.

Over 400 people were injured in the disaster, including a Spanish tourist, and are being treated in a local hospital, he said

The bodies of four policemen who died in the rescue operations were airlifted to Srinagar, where tributes were paid to them. Their bodies were later sent to their hometown, Kargil, in the Ladakh region.

Ahmed said that medical personnel and relief supplies had begun reaching in strength and special flights have been flying out stranded tourists.

At least 20 soldiers deployed near the base camp of Siachen glacier - the highest battleground of the world at the height of 18,000 feet above sea level - are still missing and are feared dead, army sources said in Jammu.

The sources said that they feared that the soldiers were dead as there was no trace of life anywhere in the area they were posted in.

The IAF has pressed more aircraft into service to take relief material. Besides Chandigarh and Delhi, relief supplies are being ferried in from Jammu and Udhampur as well, an army spokesman said in Jammu.

“An IL-76 and AN-32 transport planes took off from Jammu and Udhampur Sunday with relief material and also debris clearing machines like earthmovers and engineering equipment, provided by the Northern Command of the Indian Army,” the spokesman said.

Stunned locals are still trying to come to terms with the tragedy that hit Leh, which is popular with Indians and foreigners alike. The floods razed important buildings and washed away homes as people desperately tried to escape.

Survivors clawed through their devastated homes to look for their near and dear ones - some who survived while others were not so lucky.

The shocked tourists promptly made a beeline for the airport to leave the town at the earliest.

Britain Sunday advised its citizens against travelling to Ladakh and asked those in the area to follow “local advice”.

“Due to ongoing disruption following floods, we advise against travel to Leh and the surrounding area at the current time,” said a travel advisory issued by the British foreign office.

The police have set up tented accommodation for 2,000 victims in Choglamsar village and Leh town where free meals are being served.

In Delhi, NGO Save the Children appealed to the people to contribute relief material like blankets and household utility kits.

“About 5,000 blankets are required immediately to keep people warm, particularly children as homes have been damaged and the weather conditions are poor,” said Thomas Chandy, the NGO’s chief executive officer.

“About 5,000 household and hygiene kits are required. Tarpaulins and medical assistance are some of the other critical needs of the victims,” he said.

Save the Children is coordinating relief efforts with international NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and local NGOs.

To lend a helping hand or to donate one can call or SMS at +91 8898619953 and +91 9811320906, or log onto www.savethechildren.in.

Over 6,000 army soldiers and troopers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) are involved in the massive relief and rescue operation and are assisting the local administration.

Leh is 434 km from Srinagar and 474 km from Manali in Himachal Pradesh, to which it is connected by an alternative highway.

The cloudburst occurred at Choglamsar village, which is situated above Leh town, causing flash floods and mudslides that washed away government offices, paramilitary camps and residential homes.

Among the worst hit are the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), many local hotels and shops.

The headquarters of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a government polytechnic, an ITBP camp, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp, some government offices and the main transmitter of All India Radio Leh have been extensively damaged by the flash floods.

The general manager of BSNL said that according to preliminary estimates the corporation has suffered a loss of around Rs.12 crore and the damage has led to communications being completely disrupted in Leh.

Another service provider, Airtel whose network is still operating in Leh, has issued SIM cards to the local administration for setting up helplines.

Situated at 3,524 m above sea level, Leh is spread over 45,110 sq. km. and comprises the main town and 12 adjacent villages.

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