Heart-rending scenes were witnessed in Leh and adjoining areas on Friday after devastating flash floods hit the Himalayan town, around 440 km from here.

The tourist town woke up to one of the worst tragedies in the past several decades as chaos replaced the festive atmosphere. Wails were heard from all over as at many places bodies were lined up for the last rites. Many people were making frantic efforts to find their missing relatives.

With district administration offices themselves having been affected, it was difficult to get the exact number of deaths. However, voluntary efforts by the people helped to reach out to the affected areas.

With the death toll going up, rescue operations were stepped up. Even tourists joined the locals in rescuing the people trapped in buildings. Many structures were washed away.

At many places, families were wiped out.

“I saw some children crying as they could not come out easily,” Abdul Hamid, a businessman, told The Hindu over telephone from Leh. “The devastation is total. We are not able to recognise the old town of Leh,” he said.

Mohammad Irshad, a student of the Hindu College, Delhi, joined the rescue efforts with his friends. “It was painful to see the condition of people who have suffered extensive damage,” he said. His friend Namgayal Wangchuk said people had come together to save lives and provide relief to the needy. “Choglamsar is the worst hit along with some other villages as the slush has simply washed away the habitation,” he said.

According to Irshad and Namgayal, the tourists have been playing an exemplary role in the rescue work. Official sources said there were over 3,000 tourists in Leh and many of them were mainly from Europe and Israel. “They even reached Choglamsar to join the rescue operations,” said hotelier T. Angchuk. He said many of the tourists who were staying in his hotel left to help the people.

As the tourist season is in full swing, most of the hotels are full. However, there are no reports of any tourist dying in the floods. Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who is in Leh, said: “Some tourists are stranded on the 450-km-long Leh-Manali road and the Army has sent rescue teams there.”

Three children die in floods

Meanwhile, incessant rain in the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch claimed the lives of three children near the Line of Control. Over 10,000 residents of Rajouri are facing danger due to the floods in the Darhal and the Thanamandi streams, reports said.

Sources said three children died and one was injured when a house came down in a landslip. The incident took place in Makri area near the LoC in Nowshera sector of Rajouri district. The deceased were Sumit Kumar (4) and his sister Roobi Devi (10), and Renu Devi. Another person is battling for life in the hospital in Nowshera.