RISHIKESH // The death toll rose to at least 60 yesterday from flash floods caused by early monsoon rains that have also left tens of thousands stranded in north India.
Authorities called in military helicopters to try to rescue residents and pilgrims cut off by rising rivers and landslides triggered by more than three days of rain in Uttarakhand state, officials said.
"We are unable to confirm the number of deaths since most of the communication lines have broken down across the state," Yashpal Arya, the state minister for disaster and relief, said. "But at least 60 people are feared dead and nearly 50,000 are stranded."
Among those killed were four members of the same family, who died when their home was hit by a landslide as they slept, in Kasta village near the state capital of Dehradun.
Television footage showed bridges, houses and multi-storied buildings crashing down and being washed away by the swirling waters. A swollen river is seen engulfing a giant statue of Lord Shiva in Rishikesh.
Rising water levels in some towns have also swept up cars, earthmoving equipment and even a parked helicopter, as a result of the surprise rains which have lashed the state since Saturday.
Roads in many areas have been destroyed, leaving hundreds of pilgrims stranded on their way to visit shrines in remote areas. Authorities have cancelled pilgrimage trips, fearing further rains and landslides in the state, often referred to as the "Land of the Gods" because of its many Hindu temples and other sites.
Fresh rains in some districts were hampering rescue efforts, with teams from the national disaster management authority camping in the popular pilgrimage town of Haridwar awaiting air lift to the worst-affected districts, officials said.
The state government was also readying food parcels and drinking water to be dropped by helicopters to remote villages.
"The situation is very grim. The meteorological office has predicted that the rain will continue for another three days at least," the government official Amit Chandola said.
The annual monsoon, which India's farming sector depends on, covers the subcontinent from June to September, usually bringing some flooding.
But the heavy rains arrived early this year, catching many by surprise. The country has received 68 per cent more rain than normal for this time of year, data from the India Meteorological Department shows.
In Himachal Pradesh, at least 10 people were feared dead, while more than 1,500 tourists were stranded.
Efforts were under way to try to reopen the major roads to rescue those cut off by the rains, said JM Pathania, a top administrative official of Kinnaur district.
Two hydropower stations in the state that cater to the northern Indian grid have also been shut down.
A few villages close to the border with China have seen unseasonal snowfall, leaving dozens of shepherds and thousands of sheep stranded, a village leader said.
In Nepal, at least 12 people have been killed in landslides triggered by monsoon rain over the last three days, officials said.
Seven members of the same family, including five children, were killed after a landslide buried their house in northwestern Nepal, police said.