Monsoon fury toll mounts in north India, rescue efforts on

New Delhi/Haridwar, June 18 ((IANS) Swollen mountain rivers fed by heavy rains destroyed homes and property in many areas in north India even as the monsoon downpour continued, leading to flooding and many rivers rising dangerously. The death count in floods reached 60 while 60,000 tourists and pilgrims are stranded at various locations following floods and landslides.

More than a dozen helicopters were deployed in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh -- the two states worst hit in the flash floods -- for relief and rescue operations and all stranded people are expected to be evacuated soon.

Army personnel carried out relief operations in flood-hit Chamoli district.

The Ganga river in Haridwar was in full spate and many highways linking Delhi and Haridwar, Rishikesh and Yamunotri and Gangotri and the Badrinath National Highway are flooded.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have been sent for rescue work in the two northern states where huge sections of mountain roads have caved in in many areas, leaving people stranded and posing problems for rescuers.

Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who was stranded in tribal Kinnaur district for nearly 60 hours due to landslides triggered by incessant rains, was rescued Tuesday morning. A helicopter hired by the Congress airlifted the chief minister as the weather cleared Tuesday morning.

Uttar Pradesh irrigation department officials said the Yamuna level in Agra, Mathura and Vrindavan could touch the danger mark in a few days as more than 800,000 cusecs of water had been released from Harayana's Hathnikund.

The highest discharge from Hathnikund was in 1978 when around 7.5 lakh cusecs was released on a single day. In 2010 it was seven lakhs.

Heavy rainfall has alarmingly increased the water level in Himachal Pradesh's Pong and Bhakra dams, officials said Tuesday.

The monsoon enables both dams, which serve the irrigation requirements of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, to store water.

In Haryana, especially Yamunanagar and Karnal districts, there was a decrease in rainfall activity. On Monday, several villages in Yamunanagar district were under flood waters.

Ten helicopters were pressed into rescue operations in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, as the weather conditions were better.

"Ten Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters were pressed into rescue operations to rescue stranded pilgrims in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. We are likely to get more private choppers for the rescue, but it is based on the weather condition," M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice president of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told IANS.

He also said NDRF officials will be setting up a base camp in Gaurikund, which is 14 km from Kedarnath.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday directed all central government agencies to assist in rescue and relief operations in flood-affected Uttarakhand and assured Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna of all help, a statement said.

Condoling the deaths in the floods, Congress president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday asked the central and state governments to provide quick relief and rehabilitation to the affected people and ensure travel arrangements for the stranded tourists, said a party statement.

She spoke to union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Bahuguna and Virbhadra Singh and enquired about the situation in their states.

The met department predicted more rains over the next two days in northern India.

Officials continued with the rescue operations in rain-hit areas as the toll in the two states climbed to 58.

The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra has also been stopped for now.

The Ganga is flowing two metres above the danger mark and an alert has been sounded and people have been asked to desist from bathing in the holy river.

In the national capital, though there was no rain Tuesday, clogged drains and flooded roads led to traffic snarls at a number of places in the national capital.

Meanwhile, the spectre of floods looms large over the capital as the Yamuna river flowed over the danger mark of 204.83 metres at 204.98 metres.

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