August 7, 2010 in Nation/World

High-desert downpour ruinous

Dozens killed in Kashmir during peak tourist season
Aijaz Hussain Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A man sits amid the rubble on Friday in an area affected by flash floods in Leh, in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s normally arid, mountainous region of Ladakh.
(Full-size photo)

SRINAGAR, India – A cloudburst followed by flash floods hit a Himalayan desert region in Indian-controlled Kashmir, sending rivers of mud down mountainsides and killing at least 112 people and injuring another 400, officials said today.

Nine bodies were recovered overnight from the debris of collapsed homes in the remote region of Ladakh, said state police chief Kuldeep Khoda.

Heavy downpours triggered floods and mudslides in many places Friday, burying homes and toppling power and telecommunication towers, Khoda said.

Nearly 2,000 foreign tourists were in Ladakh, a popular destination for adventure sports enthusiasts, when the calamity struck.

Gushing waters swept away houses, cars and buses in a 60-square-mile swath in and around Leh, the main town in Ladakh, Khoda said.

Police and soldiers rescued more than 150 people, including 100 foreign tourists, mostly Europeans, stranded in Pang village, northeast of Leh, army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said in Srinagar, the main city in India’s portion of Kashmir.

Leh residents, police, paramilitary and soldiers helped pull people out of deep mud and damaged homes, but rescue efforts were hampered by water and debris, Khoda said.

“It’s a sea of mud,” said Josh Schrei, a New York-based photographer on a trekking holiday in Ladakh.

The mud was about 10 feet high in places. “A school building in Leh was buried under mud, with just the basketball hoop sticking out,” Schrei said.

August is peak tourist season, when thousands of Western tourists and backpackers flock to Ladakh, about 280 miles east of Srinagar. It is a high-altitude desert, with a stark moonscape-like terrain, about 11,500 feet above sea level. Ladakh has very low precipitation and the heavy downpour was a rare occurrence.

The floods damaged highways leading to Leh town in many places, making it difficult for trucks with relief supplies to enter Ladakh and tourists to move out of the area.

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