Flash Floods Kill Scores In Indian-Held Kashmir

Relief workers and locals gather around an area hit by floods in Leh, in India-controlled Kashmir. i

Relief workers and locals gather Friday around an area hit by flash floods in Leh, in India-controlled Kashmir's normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh. hide caption

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Relief workers and locals gather around an area hit by floods in Leh, in India-controlled Kashmir.

Relief workers and locals gather Friday around an area hit by flash floods in Leh, in India-controlled Kashmir's normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh.

A sudden overnight downpour and flash floods swept away houses and killed more than 100 people in Indian-controlled Kashmir's normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh, officials said Friday.

At least 370 people were injured, and troops were pulling survivors from knee-deep mud and rubble Friday in the popular Himalayan tourist destination. The deluge came as neighboring Pakistan suffered from the worst flooding in decades, with millions displaced and 1,500 dead.

The floodwaters have damaged most communication lines in Leh, the main town in Ladakh, as well as highways in mountainous areas. Army engineers were being sent to restore road and communication links. Parts of the airport in Leh, including the runway, were destroyed and flights were canceled.

It was unclear how many people have been left homeless, but state police chief Kuldeep Khoda said at least 2,000 displaced people had been housed in two government-run shelters.

"Mud and water is everywhere," said Kashmiri businessman Kausar Makhdoomi, who was on holiday in Leh.

Makhdoomi said the rainfall started before midnight and that water later started coursing down the area's mountains. 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.

The flooding also damaged telephone towers and highways leading to the region, army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said in Srinagar, the main city in India's portion of Kashmir.

One of the worst-hit areas was low-lying Choglamsar village on the outskirts of Leh, where houses and buildings have been swept away and soldiers were pulling survivors from mud, Brar said. Floods had badly affected villages within a 60-square-mile radius of Choglamsar, he said.

At least three army bases were hit by floodwaters. Two soldiers were missing and nearly 14 were injured, Brar said. Khoda said at least three policemen had been killed during rescue operations.

Ladakh, about 280 miles east of Srinagar, is a popular destination for Western tourists and backpackers. It is a high-altitude desert, with a stark moonscape-like terrain, about 11,500 feet above sea level. It normally experiences very low precipitation.

Ladakh is a largely Buddhist area and has been untouched by two months of anti-India civil unrest by Kashmiri Muslims that has gripped large swaths of Indian Kashmir for nearly two months. At least 49 people have died in the violence.

Explaining the devastating impact of the sudden rains, Prof. Shakeel Romshoo, a geologist at Kashmir University in Srinagar, said new rivulets had cut deep channels in the mountain gorges of the region and floodwaters 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.

Telecommunication towers across the region have either fallen or been badly damaged. The main highway linking Leh to the nearby holiday resort of Manali was blocked by landslides. Poor weather has made it impossible for even helicopters to fly into Ladakh with relief supplies.

Khoda said paramilitary troops and the army have launched a massive rescue operation but were also trying to restore communications.

Vir Singh contributed to this report for NPR from New Delhi, India.

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