GAUCHAR, India (AP) — An air force helicopter returning from a rescue mission in flood-ravaged northern India hit the side of a mountain and fell into a river on Tuesday, killing eight people, officials said.
Bad weather has hampered rescue efforts in Uttarakhand state, where more than 1,000 people are believed to have died and thousands of others remain stranded in remote areas from landslides and floods triggered by torrential monsoon rains. Other air force helicopters were unable to take off due to poor visibility, Group Capt. Sandeep Mehta said.
The air force has ordered an inquiry into the crash in the temple town of Kedarnath, said Priya Joshi, an air force spokeswoman. Five crew members and three civilians were on board the helicopter, she said.
Joshi said 45 aircraft were involved in rescue and relief operations in Uttarakhand.
Air force chief N.A.K. Browne assured flood survivors on Monday that the air force would rescue everyone stranded in Uttarakhand, but bad weather and poor visibility has led to the frequent suspension of evacuation flights.
Authorities also prepared Tuesday to cremate the bodies of hundreds of people who perished in the floods. Truckloads of wooden logs were loaded onto air force transport planes and flown to Kedarnath to be used in a mass funeral and cremation for the flood victims.
Troops are also trying to rescue about 5,000 people who remain stranded in Badrinath town eight days after the torrential rains began.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said Monday that the death toll in the Uttarakhand floods would exceed 1,000.
So far the army has rescued about 90,000 people from hundreds of villages and small towns hit by the floods. Entire towns were flattened by landslides that were followed by floods. Roads were washed away and telecommunication links snapped, cutting off many parts of the state.
In the town of Gauchar, which is the center of rescue and relief operations, authorities made arrangements to send about a dozen Hindu priests to Kedarnath.
At least 600 bodies were found buried in silt in and around the Kedarnath temple, one of Hinduism's most revered pilgrim sites.
Health experts say there are dangers of disease outbreaks unless the bodies are cremated. Medical teams are taking DNA samples and photographs of the unidentified bodies before they are cremated.
The federal health ministry said Tuesday it has sent more than 1 million chlorine tablets to purify drinking water supplies in Uttarakhand. The ministry has also sent several teams of doctors to help flood survivors.
Every summer, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make a pilgrimage known as the Char Dham Yatra to four temple towns in Uttarakhand. The pilgrims usually return before monsoon rains begin in July. But this year they were caught by unprecedented heavy rains and flash floods.
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