Flash floods at Amarnath cave on Friday, July 8.

(IANS)

Friday, July 08: At least 13 pilgrims were killed, five others injured, and around 36 people went missing after a cloudburst-like situation near the Amarnath cave shrine on Friday evening caused flash floods. J&K DGP Dilbag Singh confirmed 13 deaths in the incident that hit the area around 5.30 p.m.

As forecast, a well-marked low-pressure area and associated cyclonic circulation over south Pakistan kept producing heavy rain with locally extremely heavy falls across northwest India on Friday. The situation will likely prevail for the next few days, peaking around this weekend with daily rainfall of 50-80 mm across the Western Himalayan Region.

With no official confirmation of ‘cloudburst’ from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Friday’s incidents seem to be episodes of very heavy rain within a short span of time that are common during monsoons. The official definitions of ‘cloudburst’ vary across the world, and as per the IMD, cloudburst refers to rainfall episodes of over 100 mm within an hour, along with lightning and strong winds.

High-intensity rainfall episodes in hilly areas are particularly risky due to associated extreme run-off. The relatively young mountains of the Himalayas are prone to more landslides, and the changing climate and growing weather extremes are just adding fuel to the fire. On Wednesday, a cloudburst-like phenomenon in the Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh claimed one life, while seven people were washed away due to flash floods.

On Friday, at least three langars (community kitchens) and 25 Yatri tents were washed away in flash floods caused by the cloudburst. Rescue teams immediately rushed to the spot, some using helicopter services. Sources said that around three dozen people are missing in this tragedy, and efforts are on to locate them.

The Indian Army has launched ten rescue teams along with helicopters to aid the rescue operations. Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) rescue work is also in progress at the Amarnath Cave, and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has activated its helpline numbers. Indian Air Force assets, including helicopters and personnel, are on standby to launch rescue and relief operations at the Amarnath cave site, said the IAF officials.

Inspector-General of Police, Kashmir, Vijay Kumar, had earlier told reporters that rescue operations by various agencies are underway, the situation is under control, and the injured are being airlifted for treatment. The rescue operation is still going on, and the authorities are trying to ascertain the exact casualties or damage caused by the calamity. However, rescue operations are affected by the darkness and growing risk of more slides.

Officials said that following the cloudburst, water surged above/the sides of the cave after heavy rains at the upper reaches. Earlier on Friday, the strategic Jammu-Srinagar national highway was blocked by landslides and mud slush triggered by rain at many places, affecting the passage of pilgrims to the two base camps in the Kashmir Valley. The yatra was flagged off on June 30 after remaining suspended for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and so far, over one lakh devotees have completed the pilgrimage.

(With inputs from IANS and The Times of India)

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