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At least 140 killed in floods in northern India

August 12, 1997

CHANDIGARH, India (AP) _ Flash floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains have devastated a region of northern India, killing at least 140 people, officials and news reports said Tuesday.

The downpour that began Monday in the state of Himachal Pradesh caused two rivers, the Sutlej and Andhara rivers, to overflow their banks. The resulting floods wiped out about a dozen villages and cut off main roads to the area, 150 miles from Chandigarh, the nearest big city.

In less than a day, the floods had destroyed hundreds of homes, leaving people stranded in the Himalayan foothills. Where homes once stood, cascading water carried away uprooted trees, cooking gas cylinders and pots and pans, witnesses said.

More than 100 people died in the village of Chirgaon alone, and many more were injured, said B.D. Sharma, a spokesman for the state government. Floods washed away the village temple, the school building, homes, police posts and shops, he said.

Complete details were not available because rains and damaged roads had disrupted communications and made it difficult for rescue teams to move in. The death toll, Sharma said, may rise because officials who reached the remote mountainous area late Monday night were just checking in.

Several bridges also were washed away in the floods, Press Trust of India news agency said. The worst-affected district was Chamba through which flows the Sutlej, one of the biggest rivers in the area originating in the glaciers of Tibet.

Another 12 people were killed in the district of Kinnaur, where a huge landslide dumped part of a mountainside into the Sutlej, creating a huge lake that was threatening to enlarge and envelop several villages, officials said.

The floods also were threatening a dam on the Andhara river, Sharma said. If the dam ruptured, scores of villages could be washed away.

Property worth $700,000 was destroyed in the floods, Press Trust reported.

Annual monsoon rains begin in June each year and usually end by mid-August. Before Monday’s deluge began, more than 420 people had been killed in India in floods, landslides and collapsing homes this season. The rains, however, also bring relief from India’s harsh summers.

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