Tibetan downpour, flooded Indian river drown at least 107

CHANDIGARH, India - Torrential downpours in Tibet sent a river surging over its banks in neighboring India, washing away 1,000 houses and drowning at least 107 people, an official said Wednesday.

Rescuers, hampered by two days of rain and the loss of their mules in the floods, feared many more bodies would be found in the mountain gorges when the water subsides, said Subash Negi, the highest official in Himachal Pradesh state.

Thirty bridges were damaged by the rain and flooding along a 180-mile stretch of the Sutlej River, said B.D. Sharma, the state press secretary. Details were sketchy because telephone lines were damaged in many places.

He said property worth $238 million was damaged, according to preliminary estimates, including apple orchards, rice paddies, phone lines, roads, hotels and tourist offices.

Himachal Pradesh is popular among Western tourists for its numerous trekking routes. It was not immediately known if any foreigners were killed or injured.

Rescue workers managed to evacuate 300 workers trapped at one power company facility and 20 workers at another facility, Negi said.

The flooding was caused by a sudden torrential downpour in Tibet, officials said. Pritipal Singh, a soldier who was among 15 people rescued by an air force helicopter from an army base, said he was caught by surprise by the rain.

''There was a lot of rain and water entered into our house,'' he said. ''I tried to open the door. There was six feet of water and it gushed in. I grabbed my son and wife and ran out.''

''The army houses were all destroyed,'' said T.V. Kulkarni, the helicopter's pilot. ''The survivors had clambered up to heights and were still standing in ankle deep water.''

''I couldn't see the roads in the area. The houses were all submerged or destroyed. The helipad was itself damaged and full of water,'' he said. ''It was a problem even to land. And after I landed, the land along the river began to slide. I couldn't see any human beings there.''

The state's chief minister, Prem Kumar Dhumal, said he was trying to clear the roads so trucks with crates of apples could drive down to the plains. Apples and tourism are the main sources of revenue for the state.

Dhumal also telephoned Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging him to send emergency funds to repair roads and restore telecommunication links as well as extra soldiers to rescue people trapped in villages.

A similar cloudburst in August 1996 in Kinnaur district left at least 200 people dead and destroyed two villages.


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