Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Flood rescue helicopter crashes

Damaged houses caused by monsoon rains in Shrinagar, India (AP)

An air force helicopter returning from a rescue mission in flood-ravaged northern India has hit the side of a mountain and fell into a river, killing eight people, officials said.

Bad weather has hampered rescue efforts in Uttarakhand state, where more than 1,000 people are believed to have died and thousands of others remain stranded in remote areas from landslides and floods triggered by torrential monsoon rains. Other air force helicopters were unable to take off due to poor visibility, Group Capt Sandeep Mehta said.

The air force has ordered an inquiry into the crash in the temple town of Kedarnath, said Priya Joshi, an air force spokeswoman. Five crew members and three civilians were on board the helicopter, she said.

Air force chief NAK Browne assured flood survivors yesterday that the air force would rescue everyone stranded in Uttarakhand, but bad weather and poor visibility has led to the frequent suspension of evacuation flights.

Authorities are preparing to cremate the bodies of hundreds of people who perished in the floods. Truckloads of wooden logs were loaded onto air force transport planes and flown to Kedarnath to be used in a mass funeral and cremation for the flood victims.

Troops are also trying to rescue about 5,000 people who remain stranded in Badrinath town eight days after the torrential rains began.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the death toll in the Uttarakhand floods would exceed 1,000.

So far the army has rescued about 90,000 people from hundreds of villages and small towns hit by the floods. Entire towns were flattened by landslides that were followed by floods. Roads were washed away and telecommunication links snapped, cutting off many parts of the state.

In the town of Gauchar, which is the centre of rescue and relief operations, authorities made arrangements to send about a dozen Hindu priests to Kedarnath.At least 600 bodies were found buried in silt in and around the Kedarnath temple, one of Hinduism's most revered pilgrim sites.

Health experts say there are dangers of disease outbreaks unless the bodies are cremated. Medical teams are taking DNA samples and photographs of the unidentified bodies before they are cremated.

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