Rescuers race against time as India monsoon toll nears 600

DEHRADUN, June 22, 2013 (AFP) – Relief teams were racing against time Saturday to rescue tens of thousands of stranded people in rain-ravaged northern India as the death toll from flash floods and landslides neared 600. Rescue workers who managed to reach those stranded were racing to cut down trees and clear vegetation to allow military helicopters to land and evacuate those most in need, a state official said.

“Thousands of tourists are waiting in the dense forests. They had all taken refuge in the jungle after hotels and other buildings collapsed,” the state’s principal secretary Rakesh Sharma said.

“We are trying all possible ways to rescue them. Roads are totally destroyed.”

Federal Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and a senior leader of the main opposition Bhartiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi, were Saturday due to undertake an aerial survey of the state. Rescuers have recovered scores of bodies from the swollen Ganges river with nearly 63,000 people, mainly pilgrims and tourists, still stranded or missing after torrential monsoon rains struck the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, officials said.

Raging rivers have swept away houses, buildings and entire villages, and destroyed bridges and narrow