5,500 may have died in Indian floods

Authorities have raised to 5,500 the estimated number of people who perished in devastating floods that swept Uttarakhand last month.

A stranded Indian pilgrim is transported across a river using a rope rescue system by Indo-Tibetan border police in Govind Ghat during the recent floods.
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DEHRADUN // Authorities have raised to 5,500 the estimated number of people who perished in devastating floods that swept Uttarakhand last month.

At least 1,000 residents, Hindu pilgrims and tourists have been confirmed killed by the surging waters caused by heavier than normal monsoon rains that washed away homes, hotels and motorways.

"The total number of people still missing is 4,500," the chief minister, Vijay Bahuguna, said on Monday.

Late last month authorities had estimated the number of people missing in the Himalayan state to be 3,000.

"We will wait until July 15 and after that [the missing] will be presumed dead and the process of compensation will start," Mr Bahuguna said.

The government has promised to pay 500,000 rupees (Dh30,500) to families of each of those killed in the June 15 floods, which triggered widespread landslides.

Officials said that some people who have been initially reported missing may have returned home, or continued with their travels, and failed to notify authorities that they were safe.

Rescue workers have recovered bodies from rivers hundreds of kilometres downstream from the flood zone, underscoring the difficulties in finding all those killed in the floods.

A state MP last month warned that the death toll could exceed 10,000 in Uttarakhand, which is popular among Hindu devotees who throng local shrines during the June-September pilgrimage period.

The Uttarakhand chief secretary, Subhash Kumar, said a 75-member rescue team was marooned in Kedarnath Valley after reaching the hilly region on July 3 and that the rescuers were running out of food.

"They are now rationing the food they carried for themselves," Mr Kumar said.

He said that 60 of the rescuers were sick from drinking contaminated water in corpse-littered Kedarnath, a popular Hindu pilgrimage site.

Mr Kumar said relief supplies had been sent to 250 villages that were still cut off in Uttarakhand and that state workers stocked up stores in 92 remote hamlets with supplies for residents.

Thousands of Indian soldiers, backed by military helicopters, have wound down massive rescue efforts.

More than 100,000 people stranded in the state have been rescued.