India floods: Bad weather delays rescue and mass cremations

Sanjoy Majumder reports from Uttarakhand where rescue helicopters are taking off

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Bad weather has halted rescue operations in flood-hit northern India and forced authorities to delay mass funerals for those killed.

Air force officials said they were unable to fly helicopters to the temple town of Badrinath to bring down the 5,000 pilgrims still stuck there.

And police say the planned mass cremations in Kedarnath town have been postponed following heavy rains.

The floods have killed more than 600 people in Uttarakhand state.

State Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said at the weekend that he feared at least 1,000 people had died. Officials say 97,000 people have been rescued so far.

Early monsoon rains in India this year are believed to be the heaviest in 80 years.

'Decomposing bodies'

On Tuesday morning, rescue operations were delayed due to rain, but once the weather improved air force helicopters began preparing for sorties to Badrinath - the last of the areas where thousands of pilgrims are still stranded in the mountains.

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But later in the day, air force officials told the BBC that heavy rains in Badrinath had prevented helicopters from landing, forcing them to abandon rescue operations.

Air force officials say they need to get to the affected areas urgently as time is running out for survivors.

"I just need two to three days of good weather and I can get everyone out," Air Commodore Rajesh Issar, who heads Operation Rahat (Relief), said.

Meanwhile, senior police official Sanjay Gunjiyal, who is in-charge of the mass cremations in Kedarnath, told the BBC that it had been raining heavily since the morning and the cremations were unlikely to happen on Tuesday.

Police say lots of bodies are piled up around the temple in Kedarnath and many of them have begun decomposing, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reports from Dehradun.

Many of them remain unidentified so they are being photographed and DNA samples are being taken and preserved for the families of those still missing, our correspondent adds.

On Sunday, officials said the severely damaged Kedarnath town had been cleared of survivors and teams were searching for the bodies of victims.

Tourists and pilgrims were among those caught up in the floods, which washed away homes, roads and bridges.

So extensive is the damage that even a week after the devastating floods and landslides, there is still no clarity on the true number of people missing or dead.

Thousands of army, paramilitary and disaster management officials have been working for the past week to help those trapped in remote villages and settlements, but rescue operations have been hampered by rain and poor weather.

On average, the air force has been operating 115 flights a day and Air Commodore Issar has described it as "the single biggest rescue operation involving helicopters anywhere in the world".

On Monday morning, helicopters carrying special forces to find survivors were forced to turn back because of bad weather.

Meanwhile, hundreds of relatives continue to camp in Dehradun, looking for missing family members and friends.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the situation as "distressing" and announced a 10bn rupee ($170m; £127m) aid package for Uttarakhand.

The rainy season generally lasts from June to September, bringing rain which is critical to farming.

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