India floods: Thousands still stranded in Uttarakhand

Army soldiers rescue a woman at Pindari Glacier, in Uttarakhand, on June 27, 2013 Nearly 100,000 people have been evacuated so far in Uttarakhand

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Nearly 3,000 people are still stranded in India's Uttarakhand state where more than 800 people have died in floods and landslides, the army chief says.

Gen Bikram Singh, who is visiting the state to assess conditions, said most were in the temple town of Badrinath.

Meanwhile, state authorities say that up to 3,000 could be missing, far more than the previous estimate of 350.

On Thursday, police said 43 more bodies were cremated as aid agencies warned of an outbreak of disease in relief camps.

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 8th 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

Nearly 100,000 people have been evacuated so far, with the military continuing helicopter flights into the mountains to reach the last of the Hindu pilgrims and tourists who remain there.

This year's early monsoon rains in the Uttarakhand region are believed to be the heaviest in 80 years. Swollen rivers have swept away entire villages in the state, where there were many travellers in what is peak tourist season.

Officials say the toll could rise as more bodies are found in remote areas.

'Bring out the truth'

The Indian army chief flew into Uttarakhand on Friday morning.

Gen Singh said the worst-hit temple town of Kedarnath had been cleared and "there are no more people to be evacuated from there".

"From Harsil, I am told that there are about 500 survivors, who are being evacuated by road as well. In Badrinath, there are still 2,500 stranded people. If the weather permits, they shall be evacuated soon," he added.

Meanwhile, a senior state official said the number of missing could be a lot higher than previous estimates.

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"The objective is to bring out the truth about the missing number of people so that their near and dear ones are not kept in the dark," The Times of India quoted Uttarakhand chief secretary Subhash Kumar as saying.

Almost two weeks days after flooding began, rescue teams are still battling to reach remote areas in the Himalayas and in the state capital, Dehradun, distraught relatives clutching photographs of missing family members have been waiting for days, hoping for news.

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 the monsoon rains, which generally begin in July.

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