Relief teams were racing against time yesterday to rescue tens of thousands of stranded people in rain-ravaged northern India as the death toll from flash floods and landslides neared 600.
Rescuers have recovered scores of bodies from the swollen Ganges river with nearly 63,000 people, mainly pilgrims and tourists, still stranded or missing after torrential monsoon rains struck the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, officials said.
Raging rivers have swept away houses, buildings and entire villages, and destroyed bridges and narrow roads leading to pilgrimage towns in the mountainous state, which is known as the "Land of the Gods" for its revered Hindu shrines.
Uttarakhand Home Secretary Om Prakash said yesterday that "575 bodies have been recovered so far but the [death] toll is likely to go up".
Prakash added: "As per our records, 62,790 people are still stranded."
A seven-member team of doctors and officials was on its way to the popular Hindu pilgrimage site of Kedarnath "to collect the bodies lying there", Prakash added.
Dozens of helicopters and thousands of soldiers have been deployed to rescue the trapped people, about a week after the rains hit. TV images showed paratroopers rappelling from military choppers to assist in rescue operations.
Rescue teams were bracing for more challenges, with further downpours expected in the state and also in parts of central India from today onwards.
"We are running against time," Ajay Chaddha, chief of the army unit overseeing rescues in the state, was quoted as saying by The Times of India.
The Indian Express said rescuers had a "narrow window of just 48 hours" to complete their operations with bad weather expected from tonight.
Meanwhile, a group of 20 trekkers including six Americans were rescued yesterday after they were trapped near a remote glacier since the rains struck.
"They were on a trekking trip but got trapped because of the landslides and flash floods. The chopper has landed there now and they are all safe," said Neeraj Khairwal, a top official of Pittorgarh district.
The army managed to make contact with nearly 1,000 people stuck in mountains near Kedarnath, the NDTV news network reported.