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.
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.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the president of ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi have promised financial help and other support to the state government.
Singh has offered 200,000 rupees ($3,400) to the family of each people killed and 50,000 rupees to the injured from his national relief fund. He also pledged money to people who had lost their homes.
The prime minister promised 10 billion rupees in disaster relief to Uttarakhand.
($1 = 59.6900 rupees)
Writing by Anurag Kotoky in NEW DELHI; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Alison Williams