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Contact made with trekking group: Austrians are doing well
Vienna / Leh - "We are constantly able to establish contact with other Austrians in the region, but we are not quite there. We have not yet found all of the people we were looking for," said Foreign Office spokesman Harald Stranzl to the APA on Saturday afternoon. Relatives who suspect their loved ones to be in the flooded area in Kashmir would contact them on an ongoing basis.
In the city of Leh, a "collection camp" is being set up, where the Austrians can turn for care. A coordination meeting of the EU states was currently taking place in New Delhi to organize a possible evacuation of the Europeans.
Today the embassy in New Delhi finally managed to get in touch with the local tour operator and through them also with the European trekking group with Austrian members in Ladakh. "Fortunately, they are doing well, they are doing well under the circumstances," said Stranzl happily.
Another nine tour groups with around 90 people, including 60 to 70 percent Austrians, were traveling in the area in question. According to Christian Hlade, head of the local organizer "Weltweitwandern", contact could also be made with them. According to all available information, you are doing well.
In Austria, a crisis team consisting of the foreign, interior and defense ministries was formed on Friday and a hotline for relatives (01/53115/4411) was set up. The Austrian Embassy in New Delhi, in turn, tried to find the missing persons in coordination with the EU partners and the Indian authorities. One official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and one from the Ministry of the Interior were ready to travel to the region, which is around 1,000 kilometers away.
No hope of relaxation
The flood areas in Pakistan were hit by rain again on Saturday. The situation is likely to worsen in the coming days: After rainfall in neighboring Afghanistan, the Kabul River is likely to carry a new flood wave into northwest Pakistan, the Pakistani meteorologist Farooq Dar predicted. According to official estimates, up to 13 million people have been affected by the floods, around 1,500 people have died in the floods so far.
The UN classified the disaster as severe in terms of the number of people in need and damage to infrastructure as the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, which killed 73,000 people. The floods swept away roads, bridges and communication lines, making rescue work much more difficult. In addition to civil aid organizations, around 30,000 Pakistani soldiers are deployed to distribute food, build emergency shelters for refugees and rebuild bridges.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, meanwhile, continued his trip to Europe despite harsh criticism. His son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, defended his father in front of reporters in London on Saturday: "My father is doing everything he can to help the Pakistani people." Bhutto Zardari said that the president had already raised tens of millions in aid on his trip through France and Great Britain for the flood victims.
At the same time, the 21-year-old declared that he was not yet ready for a political career of his own. Bhutto Zardari is the son of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was murdered shortly after her return from exile at the end of 2007.
In the Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh, the number of deaths rose to at least 130 after a flash flood. Another 400 people were injured, according to the authorities. After the rain subsided early on Saturday morning, thousands of soldiers and police officers began cleaning up and Leh City Airport resumed operations.
The flash flood had carried away houses, cars and buses in Leh and the surrounding area. The water masses devastated an area of 150 square kilometers, said the police chief of the Kashmiri state, Kuldeep Khoda. According to an army spokesman, emergency services rescued 150 people northeast of Leh, including 100 foreign tourists. The region is popular with mountaineers and nature lovers.
The rescue work was made difficult by rapidly flowing water and debris. An eyewitness said the mud in Leh was ten feet high in places. Buses were swept away two kilometers. Access roads were also damaged, making the delivery of relief supplies and the departure of holidaymakers difficult. (APA)
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