About four lakh people were still stranded and desperate for help on Tuesday in flood-ravaged Kashmir Valley where heavy rains have eased to help scale up the massive multi-agency rescue and relief efforts. Nearly 43,000 people have so far been safely evacuated.
As the miseries faced by people — some of them perched on rooftops — in the worst floods to hit Jammu and Kashmir in six decades unfolded, the death toll in the floods, landslides and house collapses triggered by torrential monsoon rains since Tuesday last was stated to be around 200.
Authorities were also trying to fix the telecommunication links snapped since Sunday afternoon on a war footing and hope to restore it in a phased manner. “The big problem that is hampering rescue activities in the Valley is that telecom links have become dysfunctional…The Department of Telecommunications(DOT) is trying its best to restore the links quickly,” an official said.
Officials said shortage of boats was also affecting rescue operations. A total of 61 IAF choppers and transport aircraft undertook 354 sorties non-stop overnight to carry men and relief material to submerged parts of the Valley where about one lakh troops were engaged in the rescue operations, Defence Spokesman Col S D Goswami told PTI in Jammu.
Officials said that an estimated four lakh people were believed to be still stranded in the aftermath of the floods. GoC 15 Corps Lt Gen Subrata Saha said the weather condition is improving and the water level has receded in Srinagar and other towns in South Kashmir. The weather has cleared and the intensity of the helicopter operations has picked up. In Srinagar, the water level has receded by 1.5 to 3 feet at some places but we are noticing an increase in water level on the northern side,” he said.
The water level in Dal lake was also steadily rising. TV footage showed overflowing flood waters from Dal lake having entered the ground around Hazratbal shrine complex.
“A massive rescue and relief operations by the Indian Armed Forces, IAS and NDRF is on in Jammu and Kashmir with more helicopters and rescue materials including boats pressed into service today”, the Defence Spokesman said.
“Armed Forces and NDRF so far rescued 42,587 persons in different regions of J&K”, he said, adding that about one lakh troops were involved in the operations.
Though 110 Army boats and 148 NDRF’s inflatable boats were pressed into service, there were complaints of shortage of boats. More boats were also being airlifted from Delhi.
“We need boats. How can we pull the elderly and children to safety from the marooned areas?” an anguished flood survivor said.
“We are facing a shortage of boats for rescuing people from inundated areas,” a state government official said.
BSNL has launched an operation on a war-footing with Army and IAF to restore mobile services through satellite network and the telecom network is expected to be partially restored today, officials said.
Road connectivity to the flood-hit Kashmir Valley has been restored from the Leh region following concerted efforts of Indian Army Engineers and the Border Roads Organisation.
Goswami said that rescue teams focused on the inundated city of Srinagar and the south Kashmir belt. He said that 7,200 blankets and 210 tents have been distributed among flood -affected people along with 42,000 litres of water, 600kg of biscuit, 7 tonnes of baby food and 1,000 food packets.
Additional water bottles are being airlifted from Delhi and Chandigarh, he said.
With a view to providing speedy medical aid to the flood victims, 80 medical teams of the Armed Forces Medical Services, too, have also swung into action.
Helicopters and aircraft of Indian Air Force have so far airdropped 459 tonnes of relief material, Goswami said.
Army has set up camps where people who have had been just evacuated are kept for 12 to 24 hours before being transferred to relief camps set up by the state government.
Lt Gen. Saha said, “Water level is not significant in Baramulla as it is at just 3ft… We are taking precautionary measures in conjunction with state police and others.” Officials said that the situation in Jammu belt has stabilised and the focus is now on providing relief on the ground. Two more units of army and NDRF were airdropped to Pancheri in Udhampur where 30 people are missing after a landslide hit the area.
Meanwhile, the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi shrine in Reasi district was going on smoothly with over 25,000 people having offered prayers there since yesterday. Helicopter services were also restored today to the cave shrine.
In Kashmir Valley, where more helicopters and rescue material, including boats, are being pressed into service, a Korean couple and a retired Army Major General were among 310 people evacuated by the Chandigarh-based 12 Wing of IAF, which has been conducting non-stop sorties over the past three days to lift people to safety.
Among the rescued were also 30 women, some of whom needed immediate medical attention. They were brought to Chandigarh last evening.
As many as 263 people rescued from Srinagar-Indranagar, Shivpora, Jawahir Nagar, Rajbagh, etc. have been airlifted to Jammu from Srinagar today.
Officials said that in Srinagar, among the areas most severly affected are Rajbag, Jawahar Nagar, Girji Bag, Shivpora, Batwara, Indranagar and Ram Munshi Bag.
There are 67 boats with rescue teams operating in areas like Shivpora, Batwara and Indranagar whereas the localities of Rajbag, Jawahar Nagar and Gorji Bag are being covered through operations launched from the airport end of the city.
Army officer Lt Chetan said, “We are rescuing 10-15 people per boat on every round made. We make 50-60 rounds per day. We have all the equipment to rescue people. We will move out only after rescuing everybody.”
Army Chief Gen. Dalbir Suhag had yesterday said in Delhi that the soldiers “won’t return to the barracks until every last man is helped”.
Army medical officer Jagdish Singh said, “We have set up medical camps and are treating 230-300 people everyday. We have ambulances and surgeons. District hospitals and NGOs are also working with us.”
As for the restoration of telecom facilities, officials said that BSNL was working on the same along with the rescue personnel. Also, air force’s communication equipment and a team from a private telecom firm are being airlifted from Delhi.
In Jammu, 68 camps have been set up for those who have been displaced by the floods. Seven helicopters have been pressed into service to ferry relief material to the Rajouri, Poonch, Reasi, Mahore, Doda and Kishtwar belts, officials said.