SRINAGAR: A sudden overnight downpour and flash floods swept away houses and killed at least 85 people in Jammu and Kashmir’s normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh, officials said today.
At least 340 people were injured, and troops were pulling survivors from knee-deep mud and rubble today in the popular Himalayan tourist destination. The deluge came as neighbouring Pakistan suffered from the worst flooding in decades, with millions displaced and 1,500 dead.
The airport in Leh, the main town in Ladakh, was damaged, most communications were cut and rescue efforts were being hampered by gushing water and debris, state police chief Kuldeep Khoda said.
It was still unclear how many people have been left homeless, but Khoda said at least 2,000 displaced people had been housed in two government-run shelters.
“Mud and water is everywhere,” said Kashmiri businessman Kausar Makhdoomi, who was on holiday in Leh. Makhdoomi said the rainfall started before midnight and that water later started coursing down the area’s mountains. The flooding had damaged several homes and other buildings by this morning, he said.
“There was utter confusion and people started to panic,” he said. The flooding also damaged telephone towers and highways leading to the region, army spokesman Lt Col JS Brar said in Srinagar, the main city in Jammu and Kashmir.
One of the worst hit areas was low-lying Choglamsar village on the outskirts of Leh, where houses and buildings have been swept away and soldiers were pulling survivors from mud, Brar said. Floods had badly affected villages within a 150 sq km radius of Choglamsar, he said.
At least three army bases were hit by flood waters. Two soldiers were missing and nearly 14 were injured, Brar said. Khoda said at least three policemen had been killed during rescue operations.
Ladakh, about 450 kilometres east of Srinagar, is a popular destination for Western tourists and backpackers. It is a high-altitude desert, with a stark moonscape-like terrain, about 3,500 metres above sea level. It normally experiences very low precipitation.
Explaining the devastating impact of the sudden rains, Prof Shakeel Romshoo, a geologist at Kashmir University in Srinagar, said new rivulets had cut deep channels in the mountain gorges of the region and flood waters had inundated low-lying areas.
“It’s a challenging topography with steep and unstable slopes. Water flow and velocity being very high, the flash floods have caused huge damage,” he said.
Telecommunication towers across the region have either fallen or been badly damaged. The main highway linking Leh to the nearby holiday resort of Manali was blocked by landslides. Poor weather has made it impossible for even helicopters to fly into Ladakh with relief supplies. Khoda said paramilitary troops and the army have launched a massive rescue operation but were also trying to restore communications.