A submerged idol of Hindu Lord Shiva stands in the flooded River Ganges in Rishikesh, in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, India, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Monsoon torrential rains have cause havoc in northern India leading to flash floods, cloudbursts and landslides as the death toll continues to climb and more than 1,000 pilgrims bound for Himalayan shrines remain stranded.
LUCKNOW, India — A day after the government said it would treat more than 5,700 people missing in floods in northern India last month as presumed dead, relatives said Wednesday they still held out hope that their loved ones had survived.
The provisional death toll — officials said some of the missing still could turn up alive — would make the Uttarakhand floods the worst natural disaster in India since more than 10,000 people were killed here in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
The toll was worsened by the presence of tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims visiting the state's temples and the many vacationers who head to its cool hills to escape the summer heat. The government said it was presuming those missing for a month were dead so it could start giving compensation to their families.
Anuradha Raizada, left her home in the state of Uttar Pradesh and went to the temple town of Kedarnath with her husband and two sons - Ashwal, 18, and Atharav, 16. She returned home alone.
On June 16, a wall of water struck the hotel where they were staying. Her husband and one of her sons were swept away.
"There was a deafening noise of water and rain. I clung to my younger son, who had injured his leg and could not walk," she said. The next day, when he complained of thirst, she left to fetch him water, but she got lost when she tried to return to him. That was the last she saw of him.
She later stumbled across her husband's dead body, recognizing him from the shirt he had been wearing. She still holds out hope for her children.
She met Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, who assured her that every corner of Kedar valley would be searched for her two sons, she said.
"I know my sons will return one day. They are safe somewhere in the hills," she said.
Since the flood, Manoj Jaiswal, 40, has not heard from his brother, sister-in-law or their two children, who had been on a pilgrimage in the area. He said the morning just before the flood, his brother called him to say they were staying an extra day.
"This proved fatal for them," he said.
Jaiswal had gone to the area to search for his relatives. "The hotel where they were staying is badly damaged. Twenty-eight people died in that hotel, but my brother's name is not there in the casualty list," he said.
The state government has been criticized for poor emergency preparedness in a disaster-prone Himalayan area, and chaotic development has been blamed for exacerbating the damage from mudslides and overflowing rivers.
Bahuguna said the government would address those concerns.
"We will devise a scientific system where a balance could be maintained between development and nature," he said.
More than 1,100 roads were damaged because of the rains and landslides and many of them remained cut off, said R.P. Bhatt, the chief engineer at the Public Works Department. Entire villages were buried in silt and debris.
Ramesh Pokhriyal, a former chief minister of the state and a top official with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party said many villages could not get food supplies and he feared people would begin dying of hunger if immediate action was not taken.
Bahuguna said the government was working on alleviating the suffering.