NEW DELHI // More than 1,000 people are feared dead after torrential rain and flash floods swept across north India, a government official said yesterday, as the armed forces stepped up searches for those stranded in mountainous areas.
Shashidhar Reddy, the vice chairman of India's National Disaster Management Authority, said rescue teams were reaching the more remote regions, and that he expected the death toll to soar from the current figure of about 150.
"The devastation is massive," he added.
About 50 Indian air-force helicopters were searching for survivors cut off in the state of Uttarakhand, next to the border with China to the west of Nepal, said the region's secretary for disaster management.
Tens of thousands of Hindu and Sikh pilgrims, who flock to religious shrines in the province each summer, have been caught up in the floods.
While monsoon rains cause destruction across India every year, they have swept over the country with record speed this year.
The downpours have been especially devastating where they were channelled by the valleys of India's Himalayan foothills, destroying homes, vehicles and mobile-phone towers. Television channels have broadcast footage of apartment blocks collapsing into swollen rivers, and village streets full of debris and rock.
Air Commodore Rajesh Isser yesterday said the most critically injured survivors would be rescued by the end of the day. Progress was slow, he added, because some helicopters could only carry three or four people.
More than 100 people had been killed in Uttarakhand, the state's minister for disaster management and rehabilitation, Yashpal Arya, said on Wednesday.
Others died in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh.
The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said the number of casualties was expected to rise as he announced a 10 billion-rupee (Dh613 million) relief package.
More than 15,000 people stranded along the route to a popular Sikh pilgrimage spot, Hemkund Sahib, have been evacuated to relief camps by air and road routes, police said.
Around Kedarnath, a town considered holy by Hindus, up to 90 rest houses for pilgrims may have been washed away, and as many as 62,000 pilgrims could still be stranded across the region.
India's monsoon, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the country's rainfall, is vital for its agriculture-driven economy.
Rains since the monsoon began at the beginning of this month have been 58 per cent above average, helping to ease water shortages in some regions and promising to boost crop production in the world's second-most populous country.