Skip to main content

'Nothing but death in front of us' -- Survivors of India floods recount horror

By Harmeet Shah Singh and Jethro Mullen, CNN
June 21, 2013 -- Updated 1704 GMT (0104 HKT)
Pedestrians run from water splashing over a sea wall in Mumbai on Monday, June 24. Authorities are scrambling to rescue thousands of people trapped after floods and landslides ravaged north India, leaving up to 1,000 feared dead. Pedestrians run from water splashing over a sea wall in Mumbai on Monday, June 24. Authorities are scrambling to rescue thousands of people trapped after floods and landslides ravaged north India, leaving up to 1,000 feared dead.
HIDE CAPTION
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
India lashed by monsoon rains
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We had to walk over dead bodies," says one survivor
  • Severe flooding has left more than 50,000 people stranded in northern India
  • Authorities put the death toll at more than 500 but say they fear it will rise
  • Many people are searching for people lost in the chaos

Rishikesh, India (CNN) -- It was late at night when the priest raised the alarm.

Heavy rain was falling on Gobindghat, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas where Sikh pilgrims stop on their way to a holy site farther into the mountains.

A monsoon deluge had swept in earlier and heavier than usual in this part of northern India, bringing a risk of floods.

But before residents and pilgrims in the town could heed the priest's warning, water had engulfed the town.

"Some people climbed upwards, some ran here and there," said Gurjit Singh, who had traveled to Gobindghat with his 12-year-old son. "It was chaos."

Survivors of India floods recount horror
Monsoon rains drench India
Flood washes cars away in India

Barrages of water, mud and rocks have hit scores of towns and villages in the Indian state of Uttarakhand in the past week, inundating homes, shrines, roads and vehicles.

Uttarakhand's chief minister, Vijay Bahuguna, has described the disaster as a "Himalayan tsunami."

Dotted with temples and often referred to as "the Land of Gods," Uttarakhand attracts large numbers of pilgrims from around India to its mountainous reaches. Those travelers, many of them far from home and short on belongings, are now caught up in the destruction.

Thousands of rescue workers are trying to reach more than 50,000 people cut off by the waters. Bahuguna told CNN's sister network CNN-IBN on Friday night that the death toll was 556 but could rise. The bodies "were either buried or floating in slush," he said. It will take 15 days to complete evacuations in the province, he added.

Other parts of northern India, including New Delhi, have also been hit by flooding, but Uttarakhand has suffered the worst of the devastation.

The rains over the region have eased in the past few days, aiding in the rescue of about 30,000 people, Bahuguna said.

'A second life'

"There was nothing but death in front of us," Singh said Thursday after getting out of a crowded car ferrying people to dry, flat land. "Now that we've got out, we feel like we've got a second life."

His son, Rana Udesh Pratap, said the trek to safety was long.

"I held my father's hand and walked and walked and walked on a narrow path," he said. The two had made a pilgrimage to Uttarakhand from the nearby state of Punjab to visit the Sikh Hemkunt Sahib shrine.

Others were still struggling with what they had endured.

A man named Kailash told CNN-IBN that he, his wife and 4-year-old son didn't know how they were going to get back to their home in Jodhpur, hundreds of kilometers to the southwest.

"We don't have a penny, how will we reach home?" he asked, explaining that his family had gone hungry for three days before they were evacuated to a hospital in the town of Rudrapyrayag.

They had been in Kedarnath, a centuries-old Hindu holy town at the heart of the destruction. Pictures show the town's temple surrounded by mud and rocks.

Kailash recalled what he and his family endured before they were flown out.

"We had to walk over dead bodies," he said. "Nothing is left there, everything is finished. We can't even find our relatives."

A search for the missing

Others were searching for relatives amid the chaos. A Facebook page for rescue and relief in Uttarakhand was peppered with pleas for help in finding people.

"It is with great hope that I am writing to you to alleviate the distress of my family," wrote Shantalu Srivastava in a post seeking information about his brother, sister-in-law and two nieces.

Srivastava said that the family had traveled to Kedarnath from Lucknow, in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, and that he had last heard from them Sunday.

The national government has dispatched the army to help with rescue efforts and promised 10 billion rupees ($170 million) in disaster relief funds to the Uttarakhand government.

Some observers are saying the disaster was man-made.

Devinder Sharma, an environmentalist, blamed industrial activity in India's Himalayan region.

"This havoc is a result of massive deforestation and mining," he said. "It's an ecocide."

CNN's Harmeet Shah Singh reported from Rishikesh, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Mallika Kapur contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 2332 GMT (0732 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1249 GMT (2049 HKT)
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
Explore CNN's interactive that explains ISIS' roots, what it controls, and where its support comes from.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
In his first-ever interview as the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani defended his country against allegations of funding terrorism.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 1503 GMT (2303 HKT)
The North Korean leader hasn't been seen for weeks, leading to speculation that he is in poor health.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0154 GMT (0954 HKT)
Haider al-Abadi hopes airstrikes don't lead to "of another terrorist element" instead of ISIS.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
The United States couldn't do it on its first try. Neither could the Soviets.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
CNN's Nima Elbagir reflects on a harrowing trip to Liberia where she covered the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Contrary to public opinion, rats can actually save lives -- Apopo's rats have actually saved thousands.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT