Fifty-six people drown in Himalayas

AMRITSAR, India - At least 56 people drowned in a river swollen with heavy rains in the Himalayan moutains on Tuesday, a top official said.

Some 200 houses on steep mountain slopes in the state of Himachal Pradesh were washed away in the Sutlej River following a cloudburst, said Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, the state's highest elected representative.

An unknown number of people were missing and many roads and bridges were damaged. Many cars were under water and rice paddy crop and apple orchards were damaged.

The death toll could rise as there was little information from Kinnaur district, he said.

Details were sketchy because telephone lines were damaged in many places in the area, 250 miles north of New Delhi.

Landslides occur frequently in some of the state's districts, especially because of large-scale deforestation in recent years, according to ecologists and government reports.

Himachal Pradesh is popular, especially among Western tourists, for its numerous trekking routes.

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