By Danish Siddiqui, with additional writing by Anurag Kotoky in NEW DELHI; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Alison Williams
25 June 2013

GAUCHAR, India (Reuters) – A rescue helicopter delivering wood for the mass cremations of the victims of flooding in northern India crashed on Tuesday, killing the eight people on board, the government said.

Floods and landslides unleashed by early monsoon rains last week killed at least 680 people in Uttarakhand state and left thousands of people missing.

Government officials fear the toll could cross 1,000 and the rescue operation is still in full swing, with thousands of army personnel involved, supported by air force and private helicopters.

The Indian Air Force helicopter was delivering wood and trying to bring out survivors, many of them Hindu pilgrims and tourists, from inundated areas on the banks of the sacred Ganges river, where houses and apartment blocks were washed away in the foothills of the Himalayas.

A helicopter rescues victims of flooding in Uttarakhand, India, 25 June 2013. Photo: Reuters

The government statement did not say who was on board at the time of the crash, or why the aircraft had come down.

Thousands of pilgrims are still stranded in the Kedarnath Valley, one of the worst affected areas. Some of those rescued by helicopter told charity officials in state capital Dehradun they had seen bodies scattered everywhere.

Many areas have been cut off by the water and can only been reached by helicopters, but torrential rain is hampering their work.

The Save the Children charity said at least 150,000 people, almost half of them children, had been displaced.

Survivors said food and medicine were in short supply. Authorities said the government was trying to step up supplies of essential goods. [more]

India flood rescue helicopter crash kills eight – government

Indian workers offload wood, to be carried to Kedarnath by the Indian Air Force for cremation preparations, at Gauchar Airfield in Uttarakhand state on 25 June 2013. Around 1,000 people have been killed in flash floods and landslides in northern India. Photo: Global Post

By Jason Overdorf
25 June 2013

NEW DELHI (Global Post) – Indian authorities are due to hold a mass cremation ceremony on Tuesday to dispose of the corpses of hundreds of flood victims still lying in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand.

Another 127 bodies have been recovered since Monday from the area around the ruined Hindu pilgrimage town of Kedarnath, officials told India's Daily News & Analysis newspaper, taking the death toll to 807. Most if not all of the corpses have been lying in the open for nine days, since a flash flood destroyed everything but the temple itself on June 16.

As bad weather hampers efforts to rescue survivors, removing bodies from the site is not possible, and delaying their disposal to allow for the identification and individual cremation of the victims would leave survivors in the area vulnerable to an outbreak of disease, the Times of India cited local officials as saying. 

DNA samples will be taken and the bodies will be videotaped before they are cremated, so that family members can confirm the identity of the victims at a later date.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde consulted high-ranking Hindu priests to determine whether a mass cremation would pollute the Kedarnath temple—a 1200-year-old structure that attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims to the town each year.

According to the religious experts, as long as the cremation ceremony is performed in keeping with Hindu practices, the temple will not be harmed.

That means not only that various religious rites must be performed, but also that more than 30,000 pounds of lumber must be brought up to the cremation site by helicopter. Moreover, before many of the dead can be cremated, they must be dug out from under silt and destroyed buildings, a process that experts said could take a week or more.

On Tuesday, the Uttarakhand government told the Supreme Court that the evacuation of people stranded by the floods would be completed within 72 hours.

Air force helicopters, Indian army troops and other rescue workers have evacuated thousands of people per day since the relief effort began. Initially, estimates pegged the number of stranded at around 70,000 people.

It's feared the final death toll will stand at over 5,000, according to Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya.

India holds mass cremation of flood victims to stem disease



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