floods kill 13 during Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir | world news

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — At least 13 people were killed when sudden rains triggered flash floods during an annual Hindu pilgrimage to a Himalayan ice cave in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, police said.

Officials said that in addition to the deaths, at least three dozen people were missing while an unknown number of injured worshipers were airlifted to hospitals for treatment. Authorities dispatched several teams of doctors and paramedics to the crash area and administered first aid to the injured.

Heavy rain Friday night near the mountain cave revered by Hindus sent a wall of water down a gorge and washed away about two dozen camps and two makeshift kitchens, officials said. About 10,000 people were in the mountains when the rains hit.

The area’s disaster management department said rescuers were looking for missing people despite the bad weather.

T he Amarnath pilgrimage began on June 30 and tens of thousands of pilgrims have already visited the cave shrine where Hindus worship Lingam, a naturally formed ice stalagmite, as an incarnation of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration.

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Hundreds of thousands of Hindus from all over India take part in the pilgrimage, which lasts up to 45 days. The groups of pilgrims are staggered over a month and a half for security and logistical reasons.

This year, officials expect nearly one million visitors after a two-year hiatus in the annual effort due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish over the deaths and said in a tweet that “every possible assistance is being provided to those affected”.

Worshipers travel to the cave along two routes through lush green meadows and rocky, forested mountain passes with views of glacial lakes and snow-capped peaks. A traditional route via the southern resort town of Pahalgam takes three days while a journey through northeastern Baltal takes one day. Some pilgrims use helicopter services for quick tours.

The cave, 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) above sea level, is covered in snow most of the year, except for the short summer period when it is open to pilgrims.

Hundreds of pilgrims have died in the past due to exhaustion and exposure to harsh weather during the journey through the frozen mountains. In 1996, thousands of people were caught in a freak snowstorm while hiking, killing more than 250 people.

The pilgrimage ends on August 11, a full moon night which Hindus believe commemorates Shiva revealing the secret of the creation of the universe.

Along with the weather-related dangers, officials said pilgrims face an increased threat of attacks from Muslim rebels who have fought for decades against Indian rule. This year, for the first time, worshipers are tagged with a wireless tracking system. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers guard the pilgrimage routes.

The pilgrimage has been targeted in past attacks by suspected rebels who accuse Hindu-majority India of using it as a political statement to bolster its claim to the disputed Muslim-majority region.

At least 50 pilgrims have been killed in three dozen attacks blamed on militants since the start of an armed rebellion in Indian-controlled Kashmir in 1989 for the region’s independence or a merger with Pakistan, which controls part of the territory.

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