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Thousands rescued at flood-hit pilgrimage in Kashmir

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 yesterday. 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 combed through the slippery mountain tracks and used sniffer dogs and through-the-wall radars to locate dozens of missing amid inclement weather. Civilian and military helicopters evacuated the injured to hospitals.

The heavy rain on Friday evening near the mountain cave revered by Hindus sent a wall of water and boulders down a gorge and carried away about two dozen camps and two makeshift kitchens, officials said.

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 one-and-a-half months for security and logistical reasons. The Amarnath pilgrimage began on June 30 and tens of thousands of devotees have already visited the cave shrine.

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.

Rescue workers trek towards the site of a cloudburst, at Baltal, 105 kilometres northeast of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir. PHOTO: AP