Amarnath yatra, which began on June 30, has been suspended following the tragedy
Srinagar: A flash flood triggered by a cloudburst near the holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir swept away scores of people, killing at least 13 and swamping tents and community kitchens with mud and rocks hurtling down a hillside, police and NDRF officials said.
An official of the union territory administration said the Amarnath yatra, which began on June 30, has been suspended following the tragedy and a decision on its resumption will be taken after rescue operations get over.
An official on the ground said about 40 people are missing while five have been rescued.
NDRF Director General Atul Karwal told PTI that a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was already based in the affected area and two more from nearby locations of Barari Marg and Panchtarni have reached there.
"We have three teams comprising about 75 rescuers in action right now," Karwal said.
The cloudburst that occurred around 5.30 pm dumped copious rain and thick streams of sludge rolled down the mountain slopes into the valley.
According to the automatic weather station at the holy cave, the area received 31 mm rainfall from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm.
"It was a highly localised cloud only over the holy cave. Such rain had happened earlier this year as well. No flash flood," said Sonam Lotus, director of J&K's meteorological department.
The gushing waters hit the base camp outside the shrine, damaging 25 tents and three community kitchens where the pilgrims are served food, according to officials.
Temporary hospitals have been set up in Sonamarg and other places for providing assistance to the injured.
An integrated command centre has been put in place under the charge of Divisional Commissioner (Kashmir) besides establishing helpline numbers in Anantnag in south Kashmir, Srinagar and Delhi to help the families of those who might have been affected.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has also pressed Advanced Light Helicopters into service for rescue operations.
Videos showed water running through the tents and people scampering to safety carrying gas stoves and blankets.
A group of rescuers was seen digging the earth with bare hands as they gingerly looked for survivors under the rock-and-mud debris.
Karwal said 13 people have been killed and personnel from various paramilitary forces and the NDRF present in the area are working to ensure that relief and rescue operations are conducted for as long as required.
ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said security forces are working tirelessly to ensure each and every missing person is accounted for.
President Ram Nath Kovind said he was distressed to know about the loss of lives in the cloudburst.
"My condolences to the bereaved families. Relief and rescue measures are in full swing to provide succour to those stranded. I pray and hope that the yatra be soon resumed," Kovind tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish over the incident.
"Anguished by the cloud burst near Shree Amarnath cave. Condolences to the bereaved families. Spoke to @manojsinha_ Ji and took stock of the situation. Rescue and relief operations are underway. All possible assistance is being provided to the affected," he said in a tweet.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah directed the central forces and Jammu and Kashmir administration to ensure swift rescue and relief.
Shah said in a Tweet in Hindi that he has spoken to J&K Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to take stock of the situation.
"NDRF, CRPF, BSF and local administration are engaged in the rescue work. Saving people's lives is our priority. I wish all the devotees well," the minister said.
Sinha said he is closely monitoring the situation and instructed all concerned to provide necessary assistance to the pilgrims.
"Deeply pained by unfortunate incident of cloudburst at Shri Amarnathji holy cave, in which precious lives have been lost. I send my heartfelt condolences to bereaved families. Rescue operation by NDRF, SDRF, BSF, Army, JKP & Shrine board admin is in progress," he tweeted.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has set up four helpline numbers where people can get information about the incident.
The 43-day Amarnath yatra began after a gap of three years on June 30. In 2019, the yatra was cancelled midway ahead of the Centre abrogating Article 370 provisions of the Constitution. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.