At least 114 people were killed and 340 others injured on Friday when cloudbursts triggering torrential rain, leading to flash floods and mud slides, struck Leh town in Ladakh and its surroundings, 425 km east of Srinagar.
Kuldeep Khoda, state police chief, told HT the death toll could rise further, as more than 250 people were still missing.
"The rains started on Thursday evening, and by 1.30 am, everything was finished," said Sahil Ahmad, a driver from Srinagar who was stranded in the area since the Srinagar-Leh Highway was closed since Sunday.
The floods in this hill town, at a height of 11,500 feet above sea level, washed away hundreds of houses and left thousands homeless, snapped electric cables, damaged or washed away telecom towers and pylons, destroying the BSNL network and leaving the area in complete darkness.
The district hospital and two buildings, housing the offices of the Union Home Ministry, were submerged.
Leh airport's runway was covered with six inches of slush. But it was made operational by the afternoon enabling aircraft carrying CM Omar Abdullah - who rushed to the spot - and relief materials to land.
Although five villages in a four to five km radius of Old Leh were damaged, it was Leh town that bore the brunt of the mudslides. Bus stands were flattened and vehicles were seen floating on the muddy water.
Home Minister P Chidambaram said in Delhi that massive rescue operations were underway, involving the state police, paramilitary forces and the army.
"Over 6,000 Army and ITBP personnel fully acclimatised to the atmosphere in Leh are there," he said.
While three policemen have been killed in the floods, 25 army jawans are also reported missing. Around 50 CRPF jawans were rescued.
"Our jawans left for rescue work when the flash floods were still continuing and we lost three of them in the operations," said Khoda.
The injured have been moved to the local army hospital. Civilian doctors have also joined army doctors there, as the district hospital is flooded.
The Indian Air Force also conducted repeated aerial sorties through the day to assess the damage. The army said there were sufficient foodgrain stocks in Leh, and essential goods could be airlifted if needed.See map | See pics | Listen to podcast|Understanding cloud burst