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Death toll near 600 in India floods

JOSHIMATH, India — Rescuers found bodies in the River Ganges and in the muddy, broken earth left by landslides, raising the death toll from monsoon flooding in mountainous northern India to nearly 600 Friday, officials said.

The air force dropped paratroopers, food, and medicine for those trapped in up to 100 towns and villages cut off since Sunday in the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand where thousands of people are stranded, many of them Hindu pilgrims at four shrines in the area.

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Uttrakhand state Chief Minister Vijay Bahguna said 556 bodies have been found buried in slush and the army was trying to recover them.

Rescuers on Friday found 40 bodies floating in the Ganges at Haridwar, a holy city, said officer Rajiv Swaroop.

Rakesh Sharma, another state official, had said the death toll might reach into the thousands.

Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde told reporters in New Delhi that 34,000 people have been evacuated and another 50,000 were stranded in the region. Roads and bridges were washed away by the floods or blocked by debris.

Uttrakhand spokesman Amit Chandola said the rescue operation centered on evacuating nearly 27,000 people trapped in the worst-hit Kedarnath temple area — one of the holiest Hindu temples, on the Garhwal Himalayan range.

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