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Thousands trapped in deadly Indian Kashmir floods

08 september 2014, 10:41
0
Indian villagers look on at a missing section of a bridge across the overflowing Tawi river. ©AFP
Indian villagers look on at a missing section of a bridge across the overflowing Tawi river. ©AFP

 Soldiers were battling Sunday to rescue thousands of people trapped by Indian Kashmir's worst flooding for half a century which has killed at least 150 people and left the main city of Srinagar under water, AFP reports.

Some 350 villages have also been submerged since torrential monsoon rains triggered flooding and landslides across the picturesque Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.

Across the border in Pakistan, flash flooding and house collapses also from days of heavy rain have left another 142 people dead, an official there said.

The rain-swollen Jhelum river flooded large parts of Srinagar on Sunday and forced frantic residents onto rooftops, with reports the first floors of a children's hospital and of another hospital were underwater.

Thousands of troops, police and other emergency personnel, backed by helicopters and boats, have been deployed across the state to reach those stranded, with at least 11,000 people rescued.

"Thousands of people are still stranded and we have rescued several thousands," police Inspector General of Jammu region, Rajesh Kumar, told AFP.

"More than 150 bodies have (also) been recovered so far. The exact number is hard to assess as we are still searching for bodies."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured the region and met top relief officials. He described the situation as "a national-level disaster".

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of J&K in this hour of crisis," Modi said in a tweet.

Photos showed residents wading through thigh-deep waters clutching their belongings, stranded on rooftops or crammed into army boats with blankets, while others showed bridges and roads destroyed.

The state's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, said the floods were "unprecedented" but urged residents not to panic, saying rescuers would eventually reach them.

A police official in Srinagar, a city of 900,000, said he feared the true extent of the devastation was not yet known because phone networks were down and areas cut off.

"We are in a catastrophic situation," he told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that Srinagar's police headquarters was under water.

"Many people may have died and houses collapsed but we are not getting to know much (information)," he said.

  Trapped in homes 

In Srinagar, an army headquarters was under water along with some government buildings, according to local reports and TV footage.

An AFP reporter in the city was forced to the third floor of his house after water flooded the second, with no sign of emergency officials to evacuate him.

"We will have to move to the roof but we are also worried about the building collapsing," he said adding that water has risen about 12 feet (3.6 metres).

Another resident, Aakifa Javaid, said her local mosque announced on loudspeakers that "it would be a difficult night, no one should sleep" as the river overflowed.

Like hundreds of others in her neighbourhood in the city's north, she fled in the middle of the night when the water reached her home.

Thousands of soldiers, backed by 22 helicopters and four aircraft, have fanned out across the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the state to deliver aid and restore communications, said national cabinet secretary Ajit Seth.

"About 70 boats have (also) been airlifted, 20 have already left from Palam (in Delhi) a short while ago," he told the NDTV network.

Several thousand villages in the region, which has long been in the grip of a deadly separatist insurgency, have been hit and 350 of them are submerged, the home ministry said late Saturday.

In neighbouring Pakistan, some 142 people have been killed, with 108 villages damaged as well as farmland, the National Disaster Management Authority spokesman said

Heavy rains were, however, easing and have stopped altogether in parts of Pakistan following the floods that have hit Punjab, Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the northernmost territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.

by Parvaiz BUKHARI


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