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Death toll in monsoon floods in northern India could reach 8,000: official


16:35, June 24, 2013

Indian soldiers evacuate stranded pilgrims at Kedarnath valley in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand on June 21, 2013. Indian authorities have evacuated a total of 70,000 people from flood-ravaged areas in the northern state of Uttarakhand while 22,000 remained stranded and official death toll attained 680, officials said Saturday. (Xinhua)

NEW DELHI, June 24 (Xinhua) -- The death toll in monsoon floods in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand could reach 8,000 as thousands of people are still stranded in the mountains where rescue operations have been suspended following rainfall and fresh landslides Monday, an official said.

"Some 5,000 people have died so far while more than 19,000 others are still stranded in the difficult terrains of the hilly state. But light showers since this morning and two landslides -- on the Rudraprayag -Guptkashi road and on the Rishikesh-Uttarkashi route -- have forced rescuers to stop evacuation," he said, on condition of anonymity.

The official added "The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have been air lifting stranded people, mostly Hindu pilgrims, from the mountains. But, they have suspended helicopter operations due to bad weather. If those stranded people cannot be rescued by this evening, the death toll could rise to 8,000 as the weather office have already predicted heavy rainfall Monday onwards."

A senior Minister of Uttarkhand on Sunday put the death toll at 5,000. "At least 5,000 people must have been killed in the deluge that inflicted heavy damage on vast tracts of land especially in Kedarnath valley," Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya told the media.

Meanwhile, local authorities are gearing up for a mass cremation in the flood-ravaged holy town of Kedarnath amid concerns of an outbreak of disease from rotting bodies. "Large amounts of clarified butter and firewood have been ferried by helicopters and a mass cremation of the dead would be done," the official said.

More than 80,000 people have been evacuated since monsoon floods swept the state on June 16. Monsoon floods triggered landslides and washed away towns and roads.

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