India floods: Rescue operations resume in Uttarakhand

Members of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) rescue stranded people with the help of mountaineering ropes and ladders in Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand state Nearly 100,000 people have been evacuated from the affected areas in Uttarakhand

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Rescue operations have resumed in the Indian state of Uttarakhand to evacuate thousands of people still stranded in the mountains 10 days after floods and landslides killed more than 800 people.

At least 13 people died on Tuesday when an Indian air force rescue helicopter crashed near a pilgrimage site.

Nearly 100,000 people have been evacuated from the affected areas in the Himalayan mountains.

The toll could rise as more bodies are found in remote areas, officials say.

Early monsoon rains in India are believed to be the heaviest in 80 years.

Swollen rivers have swept away entire villages in Uttarakhand, where there were many travellers in what is peak tourist season.

Time running out

SHRINES OF UTTARAKHAND

  • Badrinath, in Chamoli district, is one of India's most important Hindu pilgrimage sites. Located on the banks of Alaknanda river, the town is famous for its temple of Vishnu, the Hindu god of creation
  • Kedarnath, in Rudraprayag district, is famous for its temple of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. One of the holiest pilgrimage sites, the shrine is located in the high Himalayas, near the Chorabari Glacier, and is a 14km trek from the nearest road. The temple is believed to have been built in the eighth century
  • Gangotri, in Uttarkashi district, is where Hinduism's most holy river, the Ganges, originates. Thousands visit the site every year. They believe that bathing here will help cleanse their sins. Pilgrims also visit the 18th-century Gangotri temple
  • Yamunotri, also in Uttarkashi, is where another of Hinduism's holy rivers, the Yamuna, originates. Pilgrims visit the temple dedicated to the goddess Yamuna after bathing in the river

Air force and army teams are doing their best to evacuate the remaining survivors from the mountains of Uttarakhand, using any break in the weather to fly in helicopters, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reports from the state capital, Dehradun.

Air force helicopters resumed flights to the worst affected areas on Wednesday morning.

Officials say they need to get to the affected areas urgently as time is running out for survivors.

Fresh landslides have also damaged more roads and the army is building makeshift bridges and tracks to get through to them.

The rain has also delayed plans for the mass cremations of bodies that have piled up in the temple town of Kedarnath, our correspondent says.

Those who remain unidentified are being photographed and DNA samples are being preserved for the families of those still missing, our correspondent adds.

Distraught relatives clutching photographs of missing family members have been waiting for days outside Dehradun airport hoping for news.

Some bodies have started decomposing and aid agencies have warned of the threat of disease unless they are cremated soon.

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Authorities are trying to transport firewood, fuel and priests to Kedarnath to carry out the cremations.

On Wednesday morning, air force chief NAK Browne visited Uttarakhand to boost the morale of pilots after the rescue helicopter crashed.

The helicopter, which was on a rescue mission near Gaurikund, hit the side of a mountain and fell into a river. At least 45 helicopters are being used in the rescue effort.

So extensive is the damage that, even a week after the floods and landslides, there is still no clarity on the true number of people missing or dead.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the situation as "distressing" and announced a 10bn rupee ($170m; £127m) aid package for Uttarakhand.

Every summer, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make a pilgrimage known as the Himalayan Char Dham Yatra to four temple towns in Uttarakhand. The pilgrims usually return before monsoon rains begin in July.

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