5,700 presumed dead in June floods in India

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A helicopter flies over the airport gate which is covered with special announcements and pictures of missing people in Jollygrant, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, India, Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Paramilitary soldiers on Wednesday recovered 20 bodies from a steep hillside in northern India where a helicopter crashed while on a mission to rescue people stranded in monsoon floods, the country’s air force chief said. AP

LUCKNOW, India — More than 5,700 people missing since last month’s devastating floods that ravaged northern India are now presumed dead, a top official said Tuesday.

Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said Tuesday that the Uttarakhand state government would give financial compensation to the families of people who may have perished in the floods and landslides that hit the Himalayan region in June.

The government had earlier put the death toll at 600 but repeatedly stressed that it would be significantly higher.

Bahuguna said recovery operations would continue, adding the exact number of people who died may never be known.

“The search operations will continue till the family members of the missing are satisfied,” Bahuguna told a group of survivors Tuesday as the state government began handing out compensation checks to the families of the dead.

The Uttarakhand government has announced that it will pay compensation of 500,000 rupees ($8,350) to the families of each victim.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindus visit Uttarakhand’s temple towns during the summer. The state is also a popular holiday destination and droves of Indians head to the cooler hills to escape the summer heat.

Visitors usually leave before July, when monsoon rains make the mountainous roads much more treacherous, but this year unprecedented heavy rains fell around mid-June.

Roads, bridges and multi-storied buildings were washed away as flooded rivers rampaged through the state, burying entire villages in silt and debris.

Army and paramilitary soldiers and volunteers rescued more than 100,000 people who were stranded in remote areas cut off by washed-out roads and landslides.

The air force and private companies made thousands of helicopter sorties to pick up people stuck on rooftops or marooned on hilltops and to drop off food and drinking water.

Bahuguna said the government would rebuild the worst-hit temple town of Kedarnath, where hundreds perished on June 16 when a sea of silt and flood water roared down a mountain valley, sweeping away everything in its path.

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