Flood waters started receding in the Kashmir Valley on Wednesday, giving a chance to civil and military rescue teams to reach hundreds of thousands of stranded people. But anger mounted over the pace of relief efforts and concerns grew over potential spread of water-borne diseases.
Rescuers evacuated another 32,500, taking to 80,000 the number of people pulled out in a continuing multi-agency mammoth operation, even as an estimated 600,000 people still waited for help after floods ravaged Jammu & Kashmir. The floods were said to be the worst in 109 years after rains pummelled the state on September 2. Hectic efforts were also underway to gradually restore the snapped telecom links which had hampered rescue work.
As the state government came under criticism over its handling of relief work, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said he understood people’s anger. “I understand their anger and I don’t grudge them on that anger. They have gone through an extremely difficult time,” he said, as hundreds of locals gave vent to their anger, complaining they were not getting any relief material such as food, medicines and blankets.
Omar described the flood situation as a “serious humanitarian crisis” but rejected criticism his government was not doing enough. “We have really been overwhelmed. We have been overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.”
An National Disaster Response Force jawan was attacked by angry locals here, while some personnel of the force were heckled while involved in relief and rescue operations.
Senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz was also heckled when he went to visit a relief camp in Humama here on Tuesday amid shouts of “go back”.
Omar said the main source of worry for him was the likely spread of diseases after water level in flood-hit areas receded. “Water levels are receding faster than I expected.” He said hours before the onset of heavy rains warnings were issued from mosques and police stations that people should move to higher locations but they were largely ignored.
In general, the water level was receding but areas downstream of Jhelum river were experiencing increase in water levels, PRO, Defence, Col G D Goswami said in Jammu.
“In Srinagar town there is a decrease in water level by three to four feet since the beginning of the floods, whereas there is a rise of six inches in Wuller Lake,” he said.
Srinagar town remained the most critical part of flood relief efforts on Wednesday. Rajbag, Jawahar Nagar, Gogji Bag and Shivpora, where the bulk of the stranded people were located, saw a step-up in evacuation efforts. Dozens of boats were also pressed into service while food packets were dropped from air.
A total of 79 transport aircraft and helicopters of IAF and Army Aviation Corps were carrying out non-stop rescue and relief operations while Army has deployed 100,000 troops.
NDRF teams also scaled up their rescue efforts.