By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR (Reuters) -Thirteen people were dead and at least three dozen were missing after a cloudburst triggered flash floods near the Himalayan Hindu cave shrine of Amarnath in Indian Kashmir, an official said here on Friday.
During the annual pilgrimage, tens of thousands of Hindus cross glaciers and waterlogged trails to reach the cave which contains an ice stalagmite considered to be a physical manifestation of the god Shiva.
A rescue operation has recovered eight dead bodies after the cloudburst near the cave, said Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar. "Some tents and community kitchens have washed away in the flash flood."
Another official who was unauthorized to speak to the media, said the death toll was larger, at 13, as five more bodies had been recovered.
He said rescuers pulled out several bodies from the debris.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was "anguished" and offered "condolences to the bereaved families."
"Rescue and relief operations are underway. All possible assistance is being provided to the affected," he added.
The cave is covered in snow for most of the year, but authorities let pilgrims visit for 45 days over the summer as rising temperatures clear the passes.
This year's pilgrimage takes place after a gap of two years due to COVID. The authorities are expecting a record 800,000 Hindu pilgrims at the shrine, after more than 60,000 arrivals so far in the first 10 days.
Indian soldiers carrying automatic assault rifles and wearing flak jackets have been out guarding roads since the pilgrimage began in the Muslim-majority region in June.
(Additional reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang)