Leh turns ghost town | india | Hindustan Times
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Leh turns ghost town

india Updated: Aug 08, 2010 01:21 IST
Tarun Upadhyay
Tarun Upadhyay
Hindustan Times
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The scale of the disaster that struck Leh in the early hours of Friday becomes clear as soon as a visitor steps out of the airport.

The once-smooth four-lane road leading out of the airport is covered at some stretches by five feet of gooey mud. A few stretches have been cleared, but on these, the tarmac has been washed away, leaving behind a bumpy, wet surface barely distinguishable from the rest of the desolate countryside.

The death toll in Friday's unparalleled cloudburst - and the flash floods and landslides it triggered - touched 132, officials reveal, while 600 others, mostly labourers, are missing.

Several dozen mangled vehicles, washed away by the torrent of slush and water, are visible, some of them upturned at impossible angles that even Bollywood's most freakish special effects teams would have fought shy of dreaming up - a testimony to the force of the deluge that hit them.

There's very little sign of the local community. All survivors have moved, or have been evacuated to higher ground. The only sign of life is of army personnel and rescue workers going about their mission.

Rescue work is proceeding slowly, hampered by spells of heavy rain. Six air force aircraft, carrying relief material, rescue workers, doctors and sniffer dogs landed in Leh on Saturday.

The new bus stand in town has been totally flattened, shops stand submerged in eight feet of mud, and there is the feel of death all around.

Just few meters ahead of the bus stand is the All India Radio building. Water has gushed through, sweeping furniture and equipment helter skelter, and a dish on top the building is contorted beyond recognition - from the impact of a truck that was swept against it.

Choglamsar, a small, dry mountain town 14 km from Leh bore the brunt of the Friday fury.

The 5 km long Mani Wall (a stone wall with Buddhist inscriptions) running through the town has been completely washed away. It was a highly revered Buddhist religious symbol.

"It took us years to build our homes. But everything was gone in a flash. It will take years to get back to normal life," said Sonam Nurbor 70, a survivor at Choglamsar.