NEW DELHI Authorities were struggling on Friday to rescue thousands of people stranded in flood-hit regions of northern India with little access to food or drinking water.
Floods and landslides, caused by heavier-than-usual monsoon rains, left pilgrims and tourists trapped this week, mostly in Uttarakhand. Updated official numbers were not available but media reports estimated the number of dead to exceed 1,000.
"More than 33,000 pilgrims and tourists have been evacuated to safer places," Manish Tewari, minister for information and broadcasting, told a news conference on Friday.
Special trains have been arranged to transport stranded passengers for free, Tewari said.
Television reports said a rescue helicopter crashed in Uttarakhand on Friday evening. No casualties were reported.
People remained stranded in some areas as flood waters and blocked roads made it difficult for rescue teams to reach them. Some survivors told NDTV news channel that they had no food for five days. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists had been trapped by the floods while visiting popular Hindu shrines in the region.
An Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) official told reporters on Friday most of the people stranded would be evacuated in a couple of days.
Internet search engine Google launched a version of its Person Finder app on Thursday to help people track missing relatives in the region.
In newspaper advertisements on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought public help for disaster aid, appealing for generous donations to his National Relief Fund.
Singh had announced a 10-billion-rupee aid package for the state on Wednesday after he and Congress president Sonia Gandhi did an aerial survey of the flood-hit region.
Media reports said Gandhi had asked Congress party lawmakers to donate a month's salary for relief efforts. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is expected to visit the state on Saturday.
Monsoon rains could ease soon after hitting 89 percent over averages in the week to June 19, according to weather office sources, in a third straight week of downpours.
This year's monsoon has drenched the country in record time, almost a month ahead of schedule.
(Reporting by India Online team; Editing by Tony Tharakan)