At least 16 people have died in flash floods during the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in Indian Kashmir, a government official said on Saturday.
More than two dozen people are considered missing and rescue operations are ongoing. “Civil and military helicopters are carrying out tireless missions to rescue the injured and the dead,” an Indian defense ministry spokesman said in Srinagar.
The authorities have suspended the pilgrimage until further notice.
During the annual pilgrimage, tens of thousands of Hindus cross glaciers and flooded paths to reach the cave, which contains an ice stalagmite believed to be the physical manifestation of the god Shiva.
The cave is covered in snow most of the year, but the authorities allow pilgrims to visit it for 45 days during the summer, when high temperatures open the passages.
This year’s pilgrimage is being held after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Authorities were expecting a record 800,000 Hindu pilgrims at the shrine, after more than 60,000 in the first ten days.