SRINAGAR, India – A cloudburst followed by flash floods hit a Himalayan desert region in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, sending rivers of mud down mountainsides and killing at least 103 people, officials said.

Nearly 2,000 foreign tourists were in the remote region of Ladakh, a popular destination for adventure sports enthusiasts, at the time, said a tourism department official in Srinagar. There were no immediate reports of any foreigners being killed or injured in the floods that started about midnight, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An army spokesman said 100 foreign tourists, mostly Europeans, had been rescued.

At least 370 people were injured, as gushing waters swept away houses, cars and buses in a 60-square-mile swath in and around Leh, the main town in Ladakh.

The thunderstorm, followed by heavy downpours, triggered floods and mudslides in many places early Friday, burying houses and toppling power and telecommunication towers, said state police chief Kuldeep Khoda.

The airport in Leh was damaged, most communications were cut and Leh’s state-run civil hospital was damaged as torrents of water flooded large parts of the town.

Leh residents, police, paramilitary and army soldiers helped pull people out of knee-deep mud and damaged homes, but rescue efforts were hampered by gushing water and debris, Khoda said.

“It’s a sea of mud,” said Josh Schrei, a New York-based photographer on a trekking holiday.

Schrei said the powerful thunderstorm had devastated many areas in Leh.

“The bus station in the town was washed away and the area is covered in mud. Buses were everywhere. Some of the buses have been carried more than a mile by the mud,” Schrei said.

The mud was about 10 feet high in places. “A school building in Leh was buried under mud, with just the basketball hoop sticking out,” Schrei said.

August is peak tourist season when thousands of Westerners and backpackers flock to Ladakh, about 280 miles east of Srinagar. It is a high-altitude desert, with a stark moonlike terrain, about 11,500 feet above sea level. Ladakh has very low precipitation and the heavy downpour was a rare occurrence.

It was still unclear how many people have been left homeless, but Khoda said at least 2,000 displaced people had been housed in two government-run shelters.


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