In this 20 June 2013 photo, the Kedarnath shrine, one of the holiest of Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, and other buildings around it are seen damaged following monsoon rains in at Kedarnath in the northern Indian state of Uttrakhand. A joint army and air force operation evacuated thousands of people stranded in the upper reaches of the state of Uttrakhand where days of rain had earlier washed out houses, temples, hotels, and vehicles. Photo: AP

By Nita Bhalla; Editing by Nick Macfie
26 June 2013

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Rotting corpses contaminating water sources and poor sanitation amid devastating floods in northern India could lead to a serious outbreak of diseases such as cholera and dysentery, aid groups warned on Wednesday.

The floods, triggered by heavy monsoon rains more than 10 days ago, have killed at least 822 people in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and forced tens of thousands from their homes. Officials say the death toll may cross 1,000 and thousands are still reported missing.

Authorities have so far been focusing on rescuing thousands of pilgrims who visit the region for its sacred Hindu temples and shrines, but aid agencies, struggling to get past roads choked by landslides to local villagers, warned of another disaster unfolding in form of an outbreak of diseases.

Aid workers said they were concerned that a combination of heavy rains and corpses lying out in the open would contaminate streams and rivers.

"We are getting reports from the field that there are rotting bodies lying around, many of them semi-buried in soil and rubble that came down from the mountains," said Zubin Zaman, Humanitarian Manager for Oxfam India, which is working in Rudraprayag, one of the worst affected districts.

There are also carcasses of livestock in rivers and streams and this has, of course, contaminated so many of their water sources. But people are desperate and are being forced to consume water they wouldn't otherwise."

Zaman said he was concerned of outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and dysentery, adding that he had received reports that 400 people were admitted to a medical camp in Sonprayag.

The disaster - the worst floods India has witnessed since 2008 when around 500 died in the eastern state of Bihar - has swept away buildings, washed away farmland and destroyed major roads and bridges.

The floods and landslides have been dubbed a "Himalayan tsunami" by the Indian media due to the torrents of water unleashed in the hilly region, which sent mud crashing down, burying homes and other buildings. [more]

Rotting corpses spark fears of epidemic amid India floods


A man rows past a bus partly submerged in flood water in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, 20 June 2013. Photo: AP

By Nita Bhalla; Editing by Nick Macfie
27 June 2013

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India began the mass cremation of bodies recovered after devastating floods in the country's northern Himalayan region, government officials said on Thursday, adding that hundreds of people were still missing.

The floods, triggered by heavier than normal and early monsoon rains, have killed at least 822 people and displaced tens of thousands of inhabitants in Uttarakhand state, a popular destination for Hindu pilgrims due to its shrines and temples.

The disaster has been dubbed a "Himalayan tsunami" by the media due to the torrents of water unleashed in the hilly region, which sent mud and boulders crashing down, burying homes, sweeping away buildings, roads and bridges.

Eighteen bodies were cremated on Wednesday in the temple town of Kedarnath - one of the worst affected areas - and at least 40 would be cremated on Thursday, said a government doctor in Guptkashi, some 40 km (25 miles) from Kedarnath.

Media reports said 600 bodies have been recovered from the site of Kedarnath alone, but government officials could not confirm this.

"Three of our doctors are currently in Kedarnath and they are trying to help identify bodies which have been found in the area," said Sunil Kumar Verma, one of a team of nine doctors from the Uttarakhand health department.

Verma said Kedarnath was only accessible by helicopter.

The disposal of corpses is important to eliminate the risk of contaminating the water supply and outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhea and cholera. […]

"It's very difficult to know the real figures and the scale of the disaster at the moment as many places are still blocked and we are still struggling to get to all the affected areas," said an official with the National Disaster Management Authority. [more]

India begins mass cremation of flood victims, many missing

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