LUCKNOW, India (AP) — India’s prime minister said today that the death toll from flooding this week in the northern state of Uttrakhand had surpassed 100 and could rise substantially.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke on his return from an aerial survey of the area, pegging the death toll at 102.
“It is feared that the loss of life could be much higher,” he said.
A joint army and air force operation evacuated nearly 12,000 Hindu pilgrims stranded in a mountainous area by torrential monsoon rains and landslides, but nearly 63,000 people remained cut off, a senior official said Wednesday.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde earlier said the flooding in Uttrakhand washed away roads and nearly two dozen bridges and demolished 365 houses and partially damaged 275 others.
Uttrakhand’s top elected official, State Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said the casualties were heavy.
A three-story apartment building toppled into a river on Sunday and was carried away by the floodwaters, a Uttrakhand government spokesman said, adding that a helicopter on its landing pad also was swept away. The government also said 40 small hotels on the banks of the Mandakini river in the Gaurikund area were destroyed by the swift-moving current.
Describing the situation as grim, Bahuguna said his administration was not equipped to tackle such a massive disaster, and asked for federal assistance. The region is 250 miles southwest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state.
An additional 17 people have died since Sunday when their homes collapsed in Uttar Pradesh state, which borders Uttrakhand, said R.L. Vishwakarma, a state police officer.
The flooding has affected several states and the capital, New Delhi, where nearly 2,000 people have been evacuated to government-run camps on higher ground. Authorities there said the situation would ease as the level of the Yamuna River was expected to start receding Thursday afternoon.
Flooding is an annual occurrence in India, which depends on monsoon rains to sustain agriculture. But the heavy downpours also cause the loss of lives and property.