Emergency workers rescued thousands of pilgrims in flash floods in their makeshift camps during the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan caves in India-controlled Kashmir, killing at least 16 people and injuring dozens, officials said.
The administration postponed the pilgrimage for two days due to sudden heavy rains. Rescuers from Indian military, paramilitary and police as well as disaster management officers combed through the slippery mountain paths and used thermal imaging equipment, sniffer dogs and radar to search for dozens of missing people. Civilian and military helicopters rushed the injured to the hospital.
Thousands of people were on the mountain when the rain hit. Officials said about 15,000 devotees were evacuated and at least five dozen injured received first aid at a base camp hospital set up for the pilgrimage, which has been done by millions of Hindus across India.
Ravi Dutt, a 69-year-old Hindu ascetic from the state of East West Bengal, who was camped near the cave, said the water falling down the mountain was “carrying away men, women and our belongings”.
He continued: “Everything was buried under a mountain [of mud and rock]. I have never seen such an event in my life. ”
Abdul Gani, a Kashmiri porter who rents his ponies to pilgrims, said it was chaos. “I just tied a devotee to my pony and didn’t look back,” he said.
The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi has expressed grief over the death. Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s top administrator in the region, said: “Our priority is to save lives. Pilgrims have been instructed to provide all necessary assistance. ”
The Amarnath Yatra started on June 30 and thousands of devotees have already visited the cave where Hindus worship Lingam, a naturally formed ice stalagmite, the incarnation of Shiva, the god of destruction and reproduction.
After a gap of two years due to the coronavirus epidemic, officials expect about 1 million visitors this year.
At 4,115 meters (13,500 feet) above sea level, the cave is open to pilgrims and is covered with snow all year round, except during the short summer months.
Hundreds of pilgrims have already died due to fatigue and harsh weather while traveling through the icy mountains. Thousands of people were trapped in a blizzard in 1996, killing more than 250 people.
The pilgrimage concludes on August 11, the night of the full moon which Hindus say commemorates Shiva who reveals the mystery of the creation of the universe.