Air India evacuates passengers stranded by Leh floods (Lead)

August 8th, 2010 - 8:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Srinagar, Aug 8 (IANS) Over 500 people, including a Spanish tourist, were missing, two days after a cloudburst caused flash floods in Jammu and Kashmir’s Leh town, claiming at least 132 lives and leading to widespread destruction. Air India Sunday operated four flights to Leh town to evacuate stranded passengers, most of them foreigners.
Inspector General of Police (Kashmir zone) Farooq Ahmad said Sunday 111 bodies have been identified so far and does not include any foreign national. The rescue teams have fanned out to six villages near Leh that had not yet been reached during the relief operations.

Ahmad said that over 400 people were injured in the disaster, including one Spanish tourist who is being treated in a local hospital.

The bodies of four policemen who died in the rescue operations were airlifted to Srinagar, where formal tributes were paid to them. Their bodies were later sent to Kargal town in Ladakh region from where the policemen hailed.

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

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

Desperate people clawed through their devastated homes to look for their near and dear ones. Some survived, others were not so lucky.

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

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad reached Leh town Saturday in a special plane that also carried medicines, foodstuff and tents for the affected families. The Indian Air Force also sent two aircraft with relief material.

The injured are being treated in local hospitals.

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

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.

The cloudburst, flash floods and mudslides that hit Leh town around midnight Friday 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.

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.

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.

–Indo-Asian News service

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