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Death toll in Ladakh floods hits 170, hundreds still missing

NEW DELHI (Reuters AlertNet) - Flash floods and landslides in Ladakh have killed 170 people, and the death toll is likely to climb further with hundreds of people still missing and several villages cut off five days after the disaster, aid workers and police said.

A medic attends to an injured boy at a hospital in Leh, August 11, 2010. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

Heavy monsoon showers on August 6 triggered flooding and landslides which washed away hundreds of houses, blocked roads and destroyed bridges in and around Leh town, a popular tourist destination in Jammu and Kashmir.

Aid workers estimate up to 25,000 people in Leh and surrounding villages have been affected by the monsoonal deluge and thousands have sought refuge in relief camps and rehabilitation centres.

“So far, we have recovered 170 bodies, 140 of whom have been identified,” said an officer in Leh’s police control room, adding that up to 300 people were still unaccounted for.

Aid workers also estimate that 10 to 12 villages remain inaccessible due collapsed bridges and blocked roads where landslides deposited boulders and mud up to 15 feet high (4 metres).

“More than 5,000 children have been affected by this humanitarian tragedy in Leh alone. We still do not know the fate of hundreds in surrounding villages as they remain inaccessible,” said CEO of Save the Children India, Thomas Chandy.

The army, which is fighting a two decade-old separatist insurgency in the disputed border state, has been spearheading relief operations by clearing main supply roads, restoring telecommunication links, evacuating residents, establishing relief camps and distributing aid.

Army officials said they were also continuing search and rescue operations in the hope of finding more survivors in the remote mountainous region popular with tourists for its old Buddhist monasteries and adventure sports such as white water rafting.

“Even though it is five days after the disaster, we are still sending thousands of troops out every day to look for missing people,” said Colonel S.B. Rai. “They are removing debris, sifting through collapsed structures and using sniffer dogs.”

Aid workers have begun distributing relief supplies and say urgent priorities include food, blankets, tarpaulin sheets, medicines and clothes.

There is also an urgent need to start planning medium and longer-term rehabilitation for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods, say aid workers.

One of the biggest challenges, they add, will be the need to re-construct people’s homes before the region’s harsh winter season begins in six weeks.

(Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar)

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