x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mass cremations held for 'Himalayan tsunami' victims

India has begun the process of mass cremation of the bodies recovered after devastating floods in the country's Himalayan region.

An Indian man looks at a wall covered in special announcements and pictures of missing people near the airport gate in Jollygrant, in northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.
An Indian man looks at a wall covered in special announcements and pictures of missing people near the airport gate in Jollygrant, in northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.

NEW DELHI // India has begun the process of mass cremation of the bodies recovered after devastating floods in the country's Himalayan region.

The floods, triggered by early and heavier than normal monsoon rains, have killed at least 822 people and hundreds are still missing.

Tens of thousands have been displaced in Uttarakhand state, a popular destination for Hindu pilgrims because of its shrines and temples.

The disaster has been dubbed a "Himalayan tsunami" by the media, after torrents of water unleashed in the hilly region sent mud and boulders crashing down, burying homes and sweeping away buildings, roads and bridges.

Eighteen bodies were cremated on Wednesday in the temple town of Kedarnath, one of the worst-affected areas, and at least 40 were cremated yesterday, said a government doctor in nearby Guptkashi.

Media reports have said 600 bodies were recovered from Kedarnath alone, but government officials could not confirm this.

"Three of our doctors are currently in Kedarnath and they are trying to help identify bodies which have been found in the area," said Sunil Kumar Verma, who is part of a team of nine doctors from the Uttarakhand health department.

He said the town was only accessible by helicopter. The swift disposal of corpses is important to eliminate the risk of contaminating the water supply and preventing outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.

An air force spokesman said helicopters had been dropping items such as wood and clarified butter - essential materials for Hindus to conduct their last rites.

Heavy rains over the last three days have hampered rescue operations by the army and air force, who have been evacuating survivors marooned in and around the four temple towns of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri since June 15.

About 96,500 people have been evacuated so far.

Government officials said about 350 people had been reported missing, but added that it was likely that there were many more.