Early monsoon rains hit India with record speed this week, killing at least 120 people so far and leaving tens of thousands stranded or missing. Prime minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday that "it is feared that the loss of life could be much higher."
Heavy rains caused the worst damage in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Downpours there have left roads, homes, cars and cell phone towers destroyed.
Most of those stranded in Uttarakhand are pilgrims. As many as 73,000 Hindu and Sikh pilgrims who traditionally make their journey to religious sites in the region each June are now stuck. Yashpal Arya, Uttarakhand's minister for disaster management and rehabilitation told Bloomberg News, "this is the worst flash flood in about 90 years. The state has been devastated.” Air force helicopters there have airdropped commandos to help rescue those who are stuck.
According to an Associated Press report, the Kedarnath temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, has escaped major damage, but the area around it is now up to 10 feet of debris.
Monsoon rains cause destruction across India every year, but this year's have hit especially hard. Rainfall at twice the usual level is being reported in northwest and central India. The annual monsoon usually makes landfall in the southern part of India each June, covering the entire country by mid July.
Prime minister Singh announced a 10 billion rupee ($170 million) relief package for those affected. Rains are expected to ease up in the next week.
Via Reuters, scenes from around India as it deals with this month's record monsoon: