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Bus carrying wedding guests swept away in Kashmir; 50 missing

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A Kashmiri man boards a boat from the window of a house in a flooded neighborhood in Srinagar, India, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mukhtar Khan

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A Kashmiri man boards a boat from the window of a house in a flooded neighborhood in Srinagar, India, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mukhtar Khan

SRINAGAR, India - A bus carrying more than 50 wedding guests was swept away by a flooded stream Thursday in the Indian portion of Kashmir, and all but five of the passengers were missing, officials said.

Police officer Mubashir Latiefi said rescuers found one body nearly three kilometres downstream.

Latiefi also said four swam to safety and told rescuers that about 50 others were travelling by the bus.

Rescuers sighted the bus several hours later and were trying to reach it, he said. Landslides and heavy rains earlier blocked access to the area.

Officials earlier said the bus was carrying about 70 people. "There is a lot of confusion," Rajesh Kumar, another police officer, said.

The Press Trust of India news agency said the bride and bridegroom were among the missing people who were returning home from a wedding ceremony in a village in the Rajouri region, about 180 kilometres southwest of Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir.

The region's wedding season has been disrupted by heavy rains and the worst floods in 22 years, and many ceremonies have been postponed.

At least 18 people have died in the past two days, and authorities on Thursday closed schools and stopped train services in the Kashmir valley. Meteorologists said the heavy rains were likely to continue for another two days.

Police officer Imtiyaz Hussain said the 18 victims were swept away by floodwaters or buried by mud from mountain slopes — 14 in the Jammu region and four in the Kashmir valley. They included a paramilitary officer whose bunker collapsed on him.

Soldiers and rescue workers used boats to move thousands of people to higher ground. At least 100 villages across the Kashmir valley were flooded by overflowing lakes and rivers, including the Jhelum river, which was up to 1.5 metres above its danger level, officials said.

Landslides and floods are common in India during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September. More than 100 people died after a massive landslide hit a village near Pune, a city in western India, recently.

Parts of Srinagar were also flooded. In Bemina, a large neighbourhood, thousands of residents waded through ankle-high water that entered their homes.

Authorities evacuated 5,000 people from the neighbourhood and 100 others were believed to be stranded there.

Authorities also asked residents in several other areas in Srinagar to move to safer places amid heavy rains.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. They have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since winning independence from Britain in 1947.

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