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Aid workers struggling in mountainous areas to rescue Indian monsoon survivors

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The recent Indian monsoon and resulting floods have been dubbed by the media as a "Himalayan Tsunami." Heavy rainfall earlier this month unleashed torrents of water in the hilly region, sending boulders and mud sludge crashing down, burying homes and buildings. The majority and India's military and air force personnel have been pressed into rescue operations.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The air force suffered a setback on Tuesday when a helicopter crashed due to bad weather in Rudraprayag district. Eight people, including five air force personnel, were reported killed.

The main focus of rescue operations has been on rescuing the tens of thousands of pilgrims trapped in the area when the floods started on June 15. Many survivors have lost homes, cattle and crops.

In addition, mountainous terrain coupled with heavy rains, landslides and remote locations face aid workers in northern India struggling to get food, water and medicine to hundreds of thousands of flood survivors.

The Himalayan region of Uttarakhand has suffered the worst by far. At least 680 have been killed and untold thousands have been displaced. The deluge has also swept away buildings and homes and destroyed major roads, bridges and vast tracts of farmland. The death toll is expected to rise significantly.

Workers are now struggling to gain access to interior areas in the worst affected districts of Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarakashi, a popular region for Hindu pilgrims due to its numerous shrines and temples.

"There is a real sense of frustration as we have relief materials available but our teams on the ground cannot get to the worst affected areas. There are so many obstacles which make this disaster much more difficult than others," Munish Kaushik from the Dutch charity, Cordaid says.

"More rains have started in the area which is very mountainous and this has resulted in roads which had just been cleared, being blocked once again. Villages are remote and scattered and we have major difficulties to even assess the number of people affected."

A meeting of representatives from humanitarian agencies, held under the auspices of Sphere India - which includes several international charities such as Oxfam, Plan, Medicins Sans Frontiers, ActionAid and Catholic Relief Services, was convened in order to deal with the ongoing crisis.

"It's difficult to know how many people exactly have been hit by this tragedy but based on initial reports from the field and the census figures for these areas, it is easily hundreds of thousands of people who will need support," Murali Kunduru, technical adviser from Plan India says.

"We are all being told to wait a few more days due to the weather conditions and blocked routes, but there is a tragedy unfolding here and we need to get to people as quickly as possible."

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