Thirteen Indian pilgrims were killed and more than 40 feared missing on Friday after a cloudburst triggered a flash flood at the Himalayan Amarnath shrine, a Hindu cave in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Thousands of pilgrims trek every day to the cave revered by Hindus for containing a naturally formed ice stalagmite that believers say is a representation of Lord Shiva in the mountains of Kashmir.
Authorities said the cloudburst struck at 5:30pm near the shrine, which is 3,880 metres above sea level, damaging buildings in the area.
“At least 13 bodies have been recovered and 40 are feared missing,” Kashmir region’s police chief Dilbag Singh told local media.
Emergency workers were immediately sent to rescue survivors and evacuate those trapped.
“Our crew is engaged in rescue work … we'll be prepared for every situation … our effort will be to get everyone out safely,” said Atul Karwal, director general of National Disaster Response Force.
The pilgrimage, which started on June 30 and will continue until mid-August, was being held after a break of three years since its cancellation by the government over security lockdown in Kashmir in 2019 and subsequent restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of pilgrims were gathered near the cave when the cloudburst struck in the nearby mountain range, prompting authorities to suspend the pilgrimage for the day.
The stalagmite is formed by trickles of water coming from a cleft in the roof of the cave and as water drips, it takes on various formations as it freezes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed “anguish” over the incident and ensured assistance for rescue and relief operations.
Several parts of the South Asian nation have been witnessing unprecedented levels of monsoon rains after prolonged summer heat. While rains brought relief from the intense heatwaves, poor infrastructure and lack of preparedness have led to flooding and landslides in many areas.
At least one person was killed and more than 250 evacuated on Friday from various parts of western Maharashtra state that has been battered by torrential monsoon rains for more than a week.
In state capital Mumbai, also India’s financial capital, the India Meteorological Department had issued a red warning — a colour-coded indication of heavy to extremely heavy rains amounting to more than 20cm — in the city for Friday.
Flood warnings were issued in neighbouring Karnataka state due to incessant rain and overflowing of the Krishna river and its tributaries.
A total of 12 people have died in various rain-related incidents in the state since June 1, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai said.
He instructed officials to take precautionary measures as warnings were issued of continuing heavy rain in the state for the next four days.
Locals rescued as many as 30 pupils after a school bus in which they were travelling became partially submerged under a flooded railway underbridge in southern Telangana’s Mahbubnagar district on Friday.
A female migrant labourer was killed in a landslide near a tunnel as she was sleeping in a roadside tent in the state’s Shimla district and seven people were feared dead in flash floods triggered by heavy rains in northern Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu district on Wednesday.