Leh tragedy toll 120, Indian Airlines ferrying out tourists (Second Lead)

August 7th, 2010 - 5:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil Srinagar, Aug 7 (IANS) The death toll in Friday’s cloudburst tragedy in Leh town has risen to 120 while 53 bodies have been identified, officials said Saturday as union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad arrived in the town with a team of doctors and paramedics. Indian Airlines has begun flights to ferry out stranded tourists.
“The death toll has reached 120, while 53 bodies have been identified. Over 400 people have been injured in the tragedy,” Farooq Ahmad, inspector general of police (IGP) Kashmir zone, said here.

“The rescue operation that was suspended in the morning for a few hours due to bad weather is going on,” Ahmad said.

Ghulam Nabi Azad reached Leh town in the afternoon in a special plane that also carried medicines, foodstuffs and tents for the affected families.

The Indian Air Force also sent two aircraft with relief materials.

The injured are being treated in local hospitals. Around 100 people, including 25 army soldiers, are missing.

Indian Airlines has decided to operate three additional flights, one from winter capital Jammu and two from Delhi, to evacuate many tourists who are stranded in the town that was hit by a massive cloudburst followed by flash floods and mudslides Friday midnight.

Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah also arrived in Leh Saturday to take stock of the relief and rescue operations. He arrived in a state-owned aircraft.

In another sortie, the state-owned aircraft carried a team of media persons from Srinagar to Leh.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who visited Leh Friday, has sanctioned Rs.5 crore immediately for relief to victims.

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

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

The cloudburst, flash floods and mudslides that hit Leh town around midnight Friday washed away concrete structures including 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, ITBP camp, CRPF camp, some government offices, main transmitter of All India Radio Leh and residential homes 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 because of damage to its equipment.

The damage to the BSNL headquarters led to communications being completely disrupted in Leh town.

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

State Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who belongs to Ladakh region, is camping in Leh to supervise relief and rescue operations.

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

The cloudbursts occurred at Choglamsar village, which is situated above Leh town.

Hundreds of locals waded through four feet deep mud to rush to higher reaches as mudslides and flash floods inundated low lying areas in the town.

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.

President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Governor N.N. Vohra have expressed grief and sorrow at the loss of human lives and assured all possible help.

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