Srinagar: At least 15 people were killed when a cloudburst near the holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas triggered flash floods Friday evening that damaged 25 tents and three community kitchens, police and NDRF officials said.
An official on the ground said about 30-35 people are missing while five have been rescued.
At least 15,000 pilgrims, who were stranded near the Amarnath holy cave in Jammu and Kashmir due to a flash flood triggered by a cloudburst, have been shifted to the lower base camp of Panjtarni, an ITBP spokesperson said on Saturday.
The border guarding force has also expanded its route opening and protection parties from lower part of the holy cave up to Panjtarni, he said.
NDRF Director General Atul Karwal told PTI that a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was based in the affected area even as two more teams from nearby locations of Barari Marg and Panchtarni have reached there.
"We have three teams comprising about 75 rescuers in action right now," Karwal said.
Meanwhile, an official of the union territory administration said that the Amarnath yatra, which began on June 30, has been temporarily suspended in view of the tragedy, adding a decision on its resumption will be taken after rescue operations end.
The cloudburst struck around 5.30 pm amid heavy rainfall, officials said.
According to the automatic weather station at the holy cave, the area received 31 mm rainfall from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm.
The gushing waters hit the base camp outside the shrine, damaging 25 tents and three community kitchens where the pilgrims are served food, according to officials.
Karwal said 13 people were killed, adding all the security forces and NDRF rescuers present in the area are working to ensure that relief and rescue operations are conducted for as long as required.
ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said all the forces are working tirelessly to ensure each and every missing person is accounted for.
President Ram Nath Kovind said he was distressed to know about the loss of lives in the cloudburst.
"My condolences to the bereaved families. Relief and rescue measures are in full swing to provide succour to those stranded. I pray and hope that the yatra be soon resumed," Kovind tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish over the incident.
"Anguished by the cloud burst near Shree Amarnath cave. Condolences to the bereaved families. Spoke to @manojsinha_ Ji and took stock of the situation. Rescue and relief operations are underway. All possible assistance is being provided to the affected," he said in a tweet.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah directed central forces and Jammu and Kashmir administration to ensure swift rescue operations.
Shah said in a Tweet in Hindi that he has spoken to J&K LG Manoj Sinha to take stock of the situation.
"NDRF, CRPF, BSF and local administration are engaged in the rescue work. Saving people's lives is our priority. I wish all the devotees well," the minister said.
Sinha said he is closely monitoring the situation and instructed all concerned to provide necessary assistance to the pilgrims.
"Deeply pained by unfortunate incident of cloudburst at Shri Amarnathji holy cave, in which precious lives have been lost. I send my heartfelt condolences to bereaved families. Rescue operation by NDRF, SDRF, BSF, Army, JKP & Shrine board admin is in progress," he tweeted.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has set up four helpline numbers where people can get information about the cloudburst.
The 43-day Amarnath yatra began after a gap of three years. In 2019, the yatra was cancelled midway ahead of the Centre abrogating Article 370 provisions of the Constitution. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.