News / Asia

    Indian Relatives Continue Search for Missing After 'Himalayan Tsunami'

    Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel search for flood victims in a damaged house in Uttarkashi in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, June 26, 2013.
    Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel search for flood victims in a damaged house in Uttarkashi in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, June 26, 2013.
    Reuters
    The pilgrims came seeking salvation and a place in heaven, but now their faces stare from banners and tatty flyers tacked to  gates and walls of Indian villages and hill-towns.

    Some are children, smiling as they pose between parents; others are elderly couples standing side-by-side looking into the camera. Many posters show groups from the same family and some offer rewards of up to 200,000 rupees ($3,340).

    All carry the names of those pictured and a telephone number. All have one word in common: “Missing.”

    A month ago, India's Himalayan region of Uttarakhand was lashed by its heaviest rainfall on record, causing glacier lakes and rivers to burst their banks and inundate towns and villages.

    Now authorities say there is little hope of finding alive the 5,748 people declared to be missing from the disaster, making it the deadliest ever in the mountainous region.

    “Three generations of my family were there. What am I going to do now?” asked P.C. Kabra, a middle-aged civil servant searching for any sign of 15 relatives at the main police station in the hill-town of Dehradun.

    Kabra, from the city of Lucknow, told how he lost contact with his family, including his mother, two brothers, sisters, their spouses and children, when the floods struck the Kedarnath Valley at the heart of the disaster.

    “I last spoke to my elder brother on June 17 at 6 o'clock in the morning. He called me and was screaming, 'There is water everywhere. We are in danger, please help us,'” said Kabra, who has been hoping against hope as he scours the area's hospitals.

    “The phone disconnected after that and I haven't been able to get through since then,” he said, lifting black-rimmed glasses to wipe away tears.

    The disaster affected not just inhabitants, but also the tens of thousands of devotees who flock each year on a pilgrimage to the temple towns of Kedarnath, Gangotri, Badrinath and Yamunotri.

    Authorities say a significant percentage of the missing were pilgrims, like Kabra's relatives, who came from other parts of India. Many pilgrims and residents were stranded for days, but military rescuers pulled more than 100,000 of them to safety.

    The flash floods and landslides washed away or damaged 5,000 roads, 200 bridges and innumerable buildings on river banks. But with many roads still blocked, some areas are only reachable by air.

    The calamity was a “Himalayan tsunami” that brought death and destruction to a rugged terrain sprawling over 37,000 square kilomters, said Vijay Bahuguna, chief minister of the state of Uttarakhand that suffered the brunt.

    “We are not getting into the controversy whether the missing persons are dead or not,” said Bahuguna. “We are abiding by what the families of the victims say, and if they think that they haven't come back and have no hope as well, [then] we are providing them monetary relief.”

    Without a body, Indian law does not allow a person to be declared dead until seven years have elapsed, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a weekend interview.

    Even so, the death toll is likely to be too low, say aid workers and people living in the disaster zone. They say more than 10,000 people were in the area when the floods struck.

    'Wild forests'

    Air force pilots, who were operating more than 40 helicopters at the peak of the search, have had to negotiate narrow valleys, sometimes flanked with dense forest, and unpredictable mountain weather. Two helicopters have crashed during the rescue and 20 servicemen killed.

    While Bahuguna said it was still possible some of the injured had taken refuge in mountain villages cut off from  telecommunications, air force officials did not think that was likely.

    “Even if people had managed to climb up the mountains to avoid the deluge, there is no way they could have survived in these wild forests for a month,” said Air Commodore Rajesh Isser, who is heading air force operations.

    Government officials say most deaths occurred in the narrow, 14-kilometer Kedarnath Valley, with its temple town dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, whose role is to destroy the universe in order to re-create it.

    At the time of the disaster, officials say there were about  5,000 registered inhabitants. But there are no records of the number of pilgrims and migrant workers, many from Nepal, who work in hotels, restaurants and as porters in the region.

    The area remains accessible only by helicopters that have been flying in paramilitary and army personnel, medical experts and other officials trying to locate, identify and dispose of decomposing corpses buried in mounds of sludge.

    Doctors have been photographing bodies, collecting any documents or personal possessions which can be used to identify them, and taking DNA samples.

    The final figures of the dead may never be known, however, with many bodies believed to have been carried away by the torrents and buried deep in mud and sludge.

    Some relatives grieve that this will leave them no chance of performing last rites for their loved ones. The 500,000 rupees [$8,347] compensation from the government is scant comfort.

    “The money is not important,” said Kabra. “It's hard to accept that my relatives will be presumed dead. Whatever the government says, I will keep looking for them. I have to have hope, otherwise I have nothing.”

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.