Bad weather hampering Indian flood rescue efforts

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By RAFIQ MAQBOOL, Associated Press

GAUCHAR, India (AP) — Bad weather hampered efforts Sunday to evacuate thousands of people stranded in the northern India state of Uttarakhand, where at least 1,000 people have died in monsoon flooding and landslides, army officials said.

The army suspended helicopter flights to rescue stranded people after dense fog descended on the Himalayan region. Instead, troops built makeshift bridges and people were being rescued by road, Brig. Uma Maheshwar said.

Tens of thousands of people were still stranded in high mountain passes and temple towns in Uttarakhand after torrential rains washed away homes and roads and triggered landslides that cut off communication links with large parts of the state nearly a week ago.

State Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna told reporters late Saturday that the death toll had reached 1,000. The exact number of people who have died in the heavy downpours and flooding of the Ganges River and its tributaries won't be known until rescue efforts end, he said.

About 10,000 army and paramilitary troops, members of India's disaster management agency and volunteers have taken part in six days of rescue and relief efforts. The army has rescued more than 80,000 people by road and air, said Amit Chandola, a state government spokesman.

More rain was expected in the worst-hit Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts over the next few days, said Anand Sharma of the state's meteorological office.

Sharma said the rains in Uttarakhand were the heaviest in nearly 80 years.

In the small town of Gauchar, where the army has set up a camp for those rescued from the temple town of Kedarnath, anxious pilgrims waited for word about relatives yet to be rescued by army helicopters.

"I'm waiting to hear from my daughter and her husband," sobbed Indu Bal Singh, 65, who became separated from her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Singh was among a group of pilgrims who were rescued first because of her age.

Singh, who has waited two days, refused to return to her home in the eastern Jharkhand state until she is reunited with her family. "I won't move from here until I hear they are safe," she said.

Across India, volunteer groups and ordinary citizens were contributing clothes, food, blankets and money for residents of Uttarakhand whose homes have been washed away by the floods.

Hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make a pilgrimage to Uttarakhand, visiting four of Hinduism's holiest shrines in the state during the summer months. The tourists usually head down to the plains before the monsoon breaks in July. But this year, early rains caught hundreds of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and local residents.

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