India floods, rains kill 173, say officials

An Indian farmer wades through a flooded paddy

SHIMLA, India (AFP) — The death toll due to heavy rains and flooding over the weekend across India shot up to 173 with the air force rescuing a revered Tibetan spiritual leader, officials said Sunday.

Most of the casualties were reported from India's most populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh with 110 people dead in rain related accidents, revenue secretary Balwinder Kumar said in state capital Lucknow.

Further north, in the tourist state of Himachal Pradesh, state officials said 46 had died due to heavy rains lashing the state.

In eastern Orissa, 17 people were washed away and 2.4 million people left homeless after four rivers burst their banks and flooded villages, senior official Ajit Kumar Tripathy said Sunday in state capital Bhubaneswar.

In Uttar Pradesh, Kumar said incessant rains and strong winds triggered house collapses which killed many victims.

Further north, rains felled trees and severed power lines in Himachal Pradesh, blocking roads and bridges and cutting off electricity to houses, Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said.

Indian air force helicopters, dropping food, medicines and supplies to affected people, also ferried the Karmapa Lama, who heads the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, to safety, Dhumal said.

The Karmapa Lama -- Ugyen Trinley Dorje -- ranks only behind the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama in the Tibetan spiritual hierarchy.

Another helicopter dropped food and other essentials to 45 trekkers including 25 foreigners stranded in the high altitude Lahaul valley, he added.

Sudha Devi, a senior Himachal administration official said at least 150 tourists had been evacuated from the snow covered 13,050 feet (3,977 metres) high Rohtang Pass on Sunday.

Meanwhile, in eastern Orissa state, about 266,000 people were evacuated to safer places after heavy rains and water overflowing from brimming dams inundated large parts of the state, Tripathy said.

"According to initial reports, 1,849 villages in coastal Orissa are under water," he said.

Indian Air Force helicopters dropped food packets to people in the worst affected districts of Cuttack, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara, he added.

Officials said many of the 17 deaths in the state were caused by the collapse of flimsy homes.

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