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Flash floods kill more than 50 in Indian Kashmir

A sudden overnight downpour and flash floods killed at least 59 people and injured 200 in the remote and mountainous Ladakh region.

An Indian couple walk with their luggage as rain falls in Srinagar today.
An Indian couple walk with their luggage as rain falls in Srinagar today.

SRINAGAR, INDIA // A sudden overnight downpour and flash floods killed at least 59 people and injured 200 in the remote and mountainous Ladakh region of Indian-controlled Kashmir, police and army officials said today. Police and paramilitary soldiers had pulled 59 bodies from flood-hit areas around Leh, the main town in Ladakh, state police chief Kuldeep Khoda said. Rescue efforts were being hampered by gushing water and debris, he said.

Operations had been stopped at Leh airport after it was badly damaged by the flood waters, with parts of the runway washed away. Indian air force troopers were clearing the debris from the airstrip, Mr Khoda said. "At least 200 people are in the army hospital with injuries. And many more people are trapped under houses and buildings that have collapsed," he said. The flooding also damaged telephone towers and highways leading to the region, the army spokesman Lt Col JS Brar said in Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir. Leh is about 450 kilometres east of Srinagar.

The affected area is a high-altitude desert about 3,500 metres above sea level, and it normally experiences very low precipitation. Professor Shakeel Romshoo, a geologist at Srinagar University, 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.

"Mud and water is everywhere," said a Kashmiri businessman, Kausar Makhdoomi, who was on holiday in Leh, the region's main town. Mr Makhdoomi said the rainfall started before midnight and that water later started coursing down the area's mountains in streams and rivulets. The flooding had damaged several homes and other buildings by Friday morning, he said. "There was utter confusion and people started to panic," he said.

Police, paramilitary troops and the army have launched a massive rescue operation in Leh, Khoda said. Flood waters were pouring into the River Indus flowing into neighboring Pakistan, which has also been hit by destructive floods. * AP