– by Gowhar Geelani
The death toll in Kashmir floods has crossed 200 mark, the toll is feared to go up drastically. After a gap of three-and-a-half days, communication lines in some parts of summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, Srinagar, have partially been restored.
Besides shrieks and wails from women and frightened children from every possible direction in the flood-hit areas of Indian-administered Kashmir, the other sounds one could vividly hear are created by the helicopters hovering above in the now blue bright skies (rescuing people from worst affected zones), honking of horns by the vehicles distributing relief material in many localities and occasional call to prayers by muezzin in some Srinagar mosques.
Makeshift tents erected on the highways, bridges and flyovers are new places of shelter to hundreds of Kashmiri families who were living comfortably inside their sweet homes only a week before. There has been helplessness throughout the week. The state of melancholy and gloom persists.
After persistent rains for five consecutive days since Tuesday (September 2) afternoon the sun eventually smiled on Sunday noon in Kashmir, lifting some hopes about speedy relief to the flood sufferers and smooth facilitation of rescue operations currently being carried out in countless waterlogged residential areas across the disputed Himalayan region.
By Sunday (Septmeber 7) afternoon I lost all possible modes of modern communication (mobile phones, fixed line, Whatsapp, Facebook & Twitter) with all my friends, relatives and acquaintances.
I felt helpless.
I drove towards Central district of Kashmir, Budgam on Monday and Tuesday. I thought I’d offer lift to trapped people on my way and possibly help whoever in whatever little way I could. To say that scenes at Rambagh Bridge, Natipora, Tengpora and Hyderpora were horrific would be an understatement.
From Hyderpora flyover in Srinagar up to Chadoora, Budgam I stopped my vehicle at six petrol pumps to fill the hungry and empty-looking tank. “No Petrol,” was the message at all fuel filling stations.
This made me angry as well as nervous.
On my way I saw many temporary relief camps set up by local people and Mosque committees on several bridges and road dividers (Barzulla Bridge, Baghat, Tengpora Bye-Pass, Sanat Nagar, Nowgam, Kralpora, Wathoora, Chadoora, etc). Flood affected people from Pantha Chowk, Lasjan, Azad Basti Natipora, Chanapora, Rambagh, Mehjoor Nagar, Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Parraypora, etc) were provided temporary shelter in marriage halls, government buildings, schools, Guruduwaras, Masjid lawns, etc.
By Sunday late evening I took a stroll to see with my eyes how bad the situation was. As I moved out I saw around 500 persons — children, women and men, old and young— standing on a nearby bridge; all of them rendered homeless because of devastation caused by the floods in their areas.
Some children and women were weeping and their male members trying to console them. It was a cold evening and some of them were trembling. I wanted to call friends for help. I couldn’t make a single call.
I felt helpless.
I don’t recall when exactly was the last time I felt as helpless as I did on Thursday (September 4) and Sunday (September 7) for different reasons.
On Thursday, the level in nearby brook rose way above the danger mark that I began hoping against all hopes that we and our neighbours and relatives were spared from the horror of submerging under flood waters. There was no clue about what to do and how.
I felt helpless.
The night passed on in inexplicable stress. Thankfully, the water level receded by Thursday midnight and I heaved a sigh of relief on Friday morning.
On Sunday, the flood situation had dramatically improved in our area but there was a new problem. The flood condition in other neighbouring areas was getting worse. No water supply. No internet. No mobile phone connectivity. And the irritating power cuts.
I can’t remember how many times I looked at my smart phone to look for the green signal (network). Each time the smart phone couldn’t act smart.
I so wanted to get in touch with my friends and relatives, but couldn’t. There was no respite.
I felt helpless.
Countless times I inserted my Reliance internet dongle into my laptop’s USP port to no avail. It was no more reliable.
I felt helpless.
I tried the fixed line BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, also satirically known as ‘Bhai Sahib Nahin Chalega’!) broadband connection, it failed me too.
I felt helpless.
I wanted to document stories of the flood fury, which I did but couldn’t send them across via e-mail because of severe snag in internet connectivity. Flood beat modern technology hands down.
I felt helpless.
Snag in communication lines only aids rumour mills to spread unverified information through the word of mouth, thereby creating more panic at times.
Badly hit mobile phone/ fixed line/ internet connectivity caused immense inconvenience to people wanting to get in touch with their family members or friends.
Journalists who break news and tell stories of other people on a regular basis had no clue about the stories of their own families.
Many journalists and photojournalists based in Srinagar for professional reasons failed to establish contacts with their families living in South Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian.
Last time I spoke with my journalist friend Naseer Ganai, who works for Mail Today, was on Saturday. Flood water had entered his house in Hyderpora. I called him to know whether he was okay. A man of few words as Naseer is, all he wrote in his response as text message was: “grim”.
I felt helpless.
Javed Dar, a photojournalist who works for Chinese news agency, Xinhua, was extremely worried for not being able to get in touch with his family members, who reside in South Kashmir district of Anantnag. His repeated attempts to contact them bore no fruit.
“In extreme emotional circumstances I’m discharging my professional duties. While capturing images of people trapped in submerged Srinagar I’m constantly thinking about my family members and wondering whether anyone has come forward to help them. I don’t know how are they? In what conditions they’re?” Dar said.
I felt helpless.
Hamidullah Dar, another scribe from South Kashmir who works for Srinagar based English daily Kashmir Images in Srinagar, was also clueless about the well being of his family members and couldn’t establish any contact with them until Saturday evening. That is all I know about him.
“I’m worried about my family. No contact since three days. I can only hope and pray that everyone there in Anantnag is fine. Please pray for them!,” he wrote on Facebook on Friday.
Peerzada Ashiq, principal correspondent with Indian newspaper The Hindustan Times, lives in downtown Srinagar. Due to deluge and embankment breaches at several places, Ashiq was unable to resume his professional assignment and failed to reach his office situated in Lal Chowk, which is only about 4-5 Kms from his home.
One of my journalist friends was getting married on September 8. I was invited to attend his wedding ceremony in South Kashmir town, Tral. Many of us were excited to attend his wedding. We got to know about cancellation of the invitation through a Facebook post on Saturday.
The worst floods in Kashmir in several decades have submerged most parts of summer capital Srinagar. The situation in towns and villages is even worse.
As per the last credible and confirmed information, more than 450 villages across the restive region had been completely marooned while around 2500 hamlets partially or completely inundated.
Normal life in Kashmir has been thrown out of gear for about a week now. Kashmir valley is cut off from the rest of the world, and also from its own regions like Leh, Kargil, Jammu, Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah, Rajouri, Poonch, etc. Trans-Kashmir Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, Srinagar-Leh and Srinagar-Jammu highways are closed for vehicular traffic because of massive waterlogging.
Several breaches in river Jhelum meant that many small bridges collapsed. The shutters of shops have been down, educational institutions shut, flights cancelled or postponed, and there is no work in government and private offices. Because of incessant rains for nearly a week the power supply in most areas is severely affected, adding to the bundle of woes of flood victims.
In all this disorder and state of uncertainty Radio Kashmir Srinagar was disseminating special flood broadcast after suspending its regular programmes, giving every possible detail of trapped people in many areas and trying to bring their ordeal to the notice of civil administration, state police and rescue teams.
Radio Kashmir anchors despite their limitation of resources, problems with pronunciation, accent and grip on Urdu language, and lack of professional expertise to handle emergency broadcasts were providing information about people caught in quagmire so that the disaster management and rescue teams could reach out to them in time.
By Sunday evening the anchors of Radio Kashmir announced with regret that they could no longer continue with the live broadcast as flood waters had entered their transmission station and that their engineers were in no position to allow continuation of the flood programme.
They felt helpless but hoped they would soon be able to resume the broadcast. They didn’t, because they couldn’t.
Announcements made through mosque loudspeakers are urging people to bring food items, blankets, medicine, etc for the flood victims to local relief camps. I hear horrific stories of people trapped on top floors and minarets of the mosques and also of those trying to save themselves in third stories of their houses. I felt so helpless.
Many self-help groups, volunteers, police and locals have been trying their best to come to the rescue of entrapped people by delivering essential food items — milk products, baby food, etc — and also helping in their evacuation to safer places in boats and heavy motor vehicles.
In their special boats, India’s National Disaster Rescue Force (NDRF) teams are also rescuing people in various flood hit areas of Kashmir.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an emergency visit to Jammu Province on Sunday. He assured all possible help and financial aid from New Delhi to the state government of Jammu & Kashmir for relief and rescue operations.
On Saturday, India’s Federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh had visited both Srinagar and Jammu provinces to review the flood situation and oversee the rescue operations.
Jammu & Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah said he has not seen such floods in his lifetime. Many of us haven’t either.
Officials said on Sunday the death toll due to flash floods and landslides in the state of Jammu & Kashmir had risen to 216. The death toll, they feared, was expected to rise because the flood situation from South Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama and Kulgam was still unclear and unknown.
It still is largely unknown. Communication breakdown is not helping either. The government is untraceable on the ground, but given the magnitude of flood’s ruthlessness it is unfair to trade blame on the civil administration and government. Disaster management in Kashmir proved to be a disaster in itself.
In such terrible state of affairs the silver lining was the shining sun on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday which finally smiled to facilitate rescue operations. The water levels in rivers, streams, brooks and flood channels are receding.
An indicative of the fact that the smiles of affected people may return soon! It is hoped that Kashmiris, who have been rendered refugees in their own Valley, may finally return to their sweet homes!!!
Latest updates, as of today morning –
From Chrar-e-Sharief, Budgam up to Solina, Sher Ghari Police Station, Srinagar, the main roads are clear and the traffic (Sumos, Inovas, private cars, trucks, load carriers, etc) is plying.
BSNL mobile phones, BSNL fixed lines and BSNL Broadband internet is restored in some areas like Barzulla, Sanat Nagar, Baghat, Rambagh, etc. It is better and convenient if people try and reach out to their family, friends and acquaintances on fixed lines.
Local relief committees are set up at entire Bund opposite areas of Kursoo Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Mehjoor Nagar, Rambagh Bridge, Barzulla Bridge, Tengpora Byepass Bridge, Baghat Barzulla marriage hall, Sanat Nagar chowk, Baghat, Gurduwara, Nowgam, Kanipora, Machoo, Chadoora, etc. All of them are doing excellent job and providing food (rice, bread, biscuits, water) and essential items to the flood sufferers.
Many relief material supplying trucks from Shopian and other areas are also reaching Srinagar.
More information about those rescued from inundated areas of Jawahar Nagar, Mehjoor Nagar, Rajbagh Kursoo, Padshahi Bagh, etc can be accessed from Humhama Airport, and also there is some information available, like names of those rescued along with their residence locations, pasted on electric poles and walls on the Kursoo-Rambagh Bund, and at some relief camps on Rambagh Bridge, Barzulla, Baghat.
Local Kashmiri boys and young men are taking a lead in relief and rescue operations, carrying trapped children on their shoulders while wading through contaminated waters themselves. They are also using makeshift boats and rubber tubes to rescue families trapped in waterlogged residential buildings. Many boats are being used for rescuing people.
At least four helicopters are busy in rescue operations in Jawahar Nagar, Rajbagh, Gogji Bagh, Tulsi Bagh areas.
India’s National Defence Rescue Force teams are also aiding rescue operations while J&K Light Infantry Jawans are also providing food, boats, etc.
From Solina to Sanat Nagar and beyond up to Nowgam and Budgam you can travel on the main road or by foot.
There is immense shortage of pure drinking water. The water is contaminated; please drink boiled water only.
There is shortage of medical camps and first aid services in most areas. Hospitals have become a thing of the past. At least four hospitals (JVC Bemina, Barzulla Bone & Joint, parts of Lal Ded Hospital and Children Hospital GB Pant) are either partially or fully submerged.)
Airtel and Vodafone mobile phones have also started showing network signs, but smooth call transfers are still not possible.
There is huge shortage of petrol at filling stations of Hyderpora, Chadoora, Kralpora, Nowgam, etc. ‘No petrol’ signboards are erected at most filling stations.
The information is sketchy about the casualties, which is giving rise to unverified information especially in relation to death toll. Rumour mills must be discouraged.
At some places in Gogji Bagh, Rajbagh, Mehjoor Nagar, Jawahar Nagar, LD hospital areas many residential buildings are waterlogged; submerged up to either two to three stories and at least 15-20 residential buildings completely destroyed. Only roofs of some buildings can be seen while the water levels are receding, though slowly.
There is scarcity of boats and essential food items at some rescue points.
Children and women, and elderly people are the most vulnerable.
Besides local Kashmiris, many tourists, labourers from outside are also trapped in various areas.