Thousands rescued at flood-hit Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir

Jul 9, 2022, 2:28 AM | Updated: 4:09 am

Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65m...

Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

(AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Emergency workers rescued thousands of pilgrims after flash floods triggered by sudden rains swept through their makeshift camps during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials said Saturday. At least 16 people have died and dozens were injured.

Authorities suspended the pilgrimage for two days as rains continued to lash the region. Teams of rescuers from India’s military, paramilitary and police as well as disaster management officials combed through the slippery mountain tracks and used thermal imaging devices, sniffer dogs and through-the-wall radars to locate dozens of missing.

They dug through mud, sand and rocks that swamped the campsites on Friday evening after hurtling down with a gush of water near the cave shrine revered by Hindus. Civilian and military helicopters evacuated the injured to hospitals.

Thousands of people were in the mountains when the rains struck.

Officials said about 15,000 devotees were moved to safer locations and at least five dozen injured were administered first aid at base camp hospitals set up for the pilgrimage, which is undertaken by hundreds of thousands of Hindus from across India.

Groups of pilgrims are staggered over 1 1/2 month for security and logistical reasons.

Ravi Dutt, the 69-year-old Hindu ascetic from eastern West Bengal state, was camping near the cave on Friday evening. He said that suddenly water gushed down from a mountain “sweeping away men, women and our belongings too.”

“Everything was buried under a mountain (of mud and rocks),” Dutt said as he broke down. “I have never seen such an incident in my life.”

Abdul Ghani, a Kashmiri porter who rents his pony to pilgrims, said it was an utter chaos. “I just bundled a devotee on my pony and never looked back,” he said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish over the deaths. Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s top administrator in the region, said: “Our priority is to save the lives of people. Instructions have been issued to provide all necessary assistance to pilgrims.”

The Amarnath pilgrimage began on June 30 and tens of thousands of devotees have already visited the cave shrine where Hindus worship Lingam, a naturally formed ice stalagmite, as an incarnation of Shiva, the god of destruction and regeneration.

This year, officials expect nearly 1 million visitors after a two-year gap due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Worshippers trek to the cave along two routes through lush green meadows and rocky and forested mountain passes with a view of glacial lakes and snowy peaks. A traditional route via the southern hill resort of Pahalgam takes three days while a trip through northeastern Baltal lasts one day. Some pilgrims use helicopter services to make quick visits.

The cave, at 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) above sea level, is covered with snow most of the year except for the short summer period when it is open to pilgrims.

Hundreds of pilgrims have died in the past due to exhaustion and exposure to harsh weather during the journey through the icy mountains. In 1996, thousands were caught in a freak snowstorm, leading to more than 250 fatalities.

The pilgrimage concludes on Aug. 11, a full-moon night that Hindus say commemorates Shiva revealing the secret of the creation of the universe.

Apart from weather-related hazards, officials have said that pilgrims face an increased threat of attacks from Muslim rebels who have fought for decades against Indian rule. This year, for the first time, devotees are tagged with a wireless tracking system. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers also guard the routes.

The pilgrimage has been targeted in the past by suspected rebels, who accuse Hindu-majority India of using it as a political statement to bolster its claim on the Muslim-majority disputed region.

At least 50 pilgrims have been killed in three dozen attacks blamed on militants since an armed rebellion began in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 1989 for the region’s independence or a merger with Pakistan, which controls a part of the territory.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Hindu holy men wait to register for an annual pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave, in Jammu, India, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least 13 people were killed when sudden rains triggered flash floods during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, police said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
            
              Hindu pilgrims sing religious songs as they wait to register for an annual pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave, in Jammu, India, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least 13 people were killed when sudden rains triggered flash floods during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, police said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
            
              Hindu pilgrims, some chanting religious slogans, line up to register for an annual pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave, in Jammu, India, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least 13 people were killed when sudden rains triggered flash floods during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, police said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
            
              Hindu pilgrims raise their hands and chant religious slogans as they wait to register for an annual pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave, in Jammu, India, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least 13 people were killed when sudden rains triggered flash floods during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, police said. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)
            
              Hindu pilgrims return back after a cloudburst at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. More than ten pilgrims have been killed and many feared missing after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers leave for a rescue mission from Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. More than ten pilgrims have been killed and many feared missing after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              A Hindu pilgrim returns back after a cloudburst at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. More than ten pilgrims have been killed and many feared missing after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Hindu pilgrims return back after a cloudburst, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. More than ten pilgrims have been killed and many feared missing after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              An Indian soldier stands guard as Hindu pilgrims return back after the cloudburst  at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. More than ten pilgrims have been killed and many feared missing after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry a body of a cloudburst victim at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. More than ten pilgrims have been killed and many feared missing after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry a body of a cloudburst victim, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              An Indian army soldier carries  medicine and other items for victims of a cloudburst at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Rescue workers trek towards the site of a cloudburst, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
            
              Indian army soldiers carry an injured of a cloudburst for treatment, at Baltal, 105 kilometers (65miles) northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 9, 2022. At least eight pilgrims have been killed after a cloudburst triggered a flash flooding during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to an icy Himalayan cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Officials say the cloudburst near the hollowed mountain cave revered by Hindus on Friday sent a wall of water down a mountain gorge and swept about two dozen encampments and two makeshift kitchens. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)

AP

FILE - U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz listens during a news conference, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washi...

Associated Press

US Border Patrol chief is retiring after seeing through end of Title 42 immigration restrictions

The head of the U.S. Border Patrol announced Tuesday that he was retiring, after seeing through a major policy shift that seeks to clamp down on illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border following the end of Title 42 pandemic restrictions.

1 day ago

FILE - President Joe Biden talks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., on the House steps as...

Associated Press

House OKs debt ceiling bill to avoid default, sends Biden-McCarthy deal to Senate

The House approved a debt ceiling and budget cuts package late Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy assembled a bipartisan coalition of centrist Democrats and Republicans against fierce conservative blowback and progressive dissent.

1 day ago

Sean Bickings (Family Photo via city of Tempe)...

Associated Press

Family of man who drowned last year in Tempe Town Lake files wrongful death lawsuit

The family of a man who drowned in Tempe Town Lake a year ago filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city Wednesday, noting that its police department doesn't have a policy requiring officers to go into the water to save someone.

1 day ago

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Associated Press

Florida police search for 3 gunmen who wounded 9 at crowded beach on Memorial Day

Police are responding to a shooting near the beach broadwalk in Hollywood, Florida.

3 days ago

Crew members assemble the main stage ahead of the 2023 Scripps Nations Spelling Bee on Sunday, May ...

Associated Press

Exclusive secrets of the National Spelling Bee: Picking the words to identify a champion

As the final pre-competition meeting of the Scripps National Spelling Bee's word selection panel stretches into its seventh hour, the pronouncers no longer seem to care.

3 days ago

FILE - Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, wipes a tear from her face during a news conference o...

Associated Press

Mother of man who killed Gabby Petito said in letter she would help son ‘dispose of a body’

The mother of the man who killed Gabby Petito told her son in an undated letter that she would “dispose of a body” if needed because she loved him so much, according to copies of the note shared publicly for the first time this week by attorneys for Petito's parents.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Desert Institute for Spine Care

Spinal fusion surgery has come a long way, despite misconceptions

As Dr. Justin Field of the Desert Institute for Spine Care explained, “we've come a long way over the last couple of decades.”

...

re:vitalize

Why drug-free weight loss still matters

Wanting to lose weight is a common goal for many people as they progress throughout life, but choosing between a holistic approach or to take medicine can be a tough decision.

(Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona Photo)...

Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona

5 common causes for chronic neck pain

Neck pain can debilitate one’s daily routine, yet 80% of people experience it in their lives and 20%-50% deal with it annually.

Thousands rescued at flood-hit Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir