Leh: At least 59 people were killed and many others went missing after heavy downpour triggered flash floods devastating Leh in the Ladakh region.
59 bodies have been recovered from the flooded areas, J and K Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda said. Among the dead were three jawans of the Army Service Corps.
“At least 200 people are in the army hospital with injuries. And many more people are trapped under houses and buildings that have collapsed,” he said.
He said a massive rescue operation was underway involving the state police, paramilitary forces and the army in Leh town.
50 CRPF jawans were rescued from the flooded areas, Khoda said.
According to sources, the cloudburst happened between 12.30 and 1.00 am on Friday.
The BSNL network was completely damaged, besides the runway of the Leh airport, cutting off the town from the rest of the country.
The district hospital and two buildings housing offices of the Union Home Ministry were also affected.
Five villages have been hit in the sudden downpour and flashfloods. These included Choglumsar and Shapoo. Old Leh city was among the worst affected. The main bus stand was flattened.
Leh is located at a height of 11,500 feet above sea level, 424 kilometres from Srinagar. The worst hit was Choglumsar area, 13 kms from here, where 14 bodies were recovered, officials said.
Khoda said the toll may go up. “The actual damage will be known only after the water receded,” another senior official said.
A polytechnic college, headquarters of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) camp, many government offices and houses have been damaged. The Leh airport has been inundated.
Prof. Shakeel Romshoo, a geologist at Srinagar University, said new rivulets had cut deep channels in the mountain gorges of the region and flood waters had inundated low-lying areas.
“It’s a challenging topography with steep and unstable slopes. Water flow and velocity being very high, the flash floods have caused huge damage,” he said.
“Mud and water is everywhere,” said Kashmiri businessman Kausar Makhdoomi, who was on holiday in Leh.
Makhdoomi said the rainfall started before midnight and that water later started coursing down the area’s mountains in streams and rivulets. The flooding had damaged several homes and other buildings by Friday morning, he said.
“There was utter confusion and people started to panic,” he said.
As many as 4,000 army men, and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and police personnel have launched a massive relief and rescue operation.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, while expressing grief over the tragedy, has directed the civil and police administration to undertake relief and rescue work on a war footing.
All flights from Delhi to Leh have been cancelled.