Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Flood waters recede, but real challenge begins now

JAMMU: The toll from devastating floods in Jammu & Kashmir has crossed 200 even as surging waters began to recede on Tuesday.

Officials said the toll was feared to go up further as the extent of the damage was likely to be clearer in the coming days after the water recedes completely for authorities to assess the situation.

Rescue operations continued to be hampered as large parts of the state continued to be cut off from the outside world and reachable only by air.

Officials said the lifeline — Jammu-Kashmir national highway, the only route connecting the valley to the outside world, remained closed for the seventh day. Vast swathes of the road have been washed away. Large parts of the state remained without electricity while drinking water too was scarce.

All India Radio and Doordarshan stations near the swollen Jehlum River, which has flooded several posh areas, remained off air as their premises remained flooded along with key buildings including the civil secretariat, the high court and the police control room.

The radio station had done a commendable job by running a live helpline before it went off air on Sunday. Residences of several key police officers, bureaucrats and ministers too were submerged. This included state flood control minister Sham Lal Sharma's house in Srinagar's Church Lane area. Unconfirmed reports said the missing included some lawmakers and ministers.

The Army said it has pressed over one Lakh soldiers for the rescue operations. They are equipped with 170 boats to evacuate marooned residents. Over 40 boats were flown from Rajasthan and Punjab on Tuesday along with 10 medical teams.

"Army medical authorities have flown in two tons of medical stores capable of treating more than 7,000 patients from Kanpur," said defence spokesman S D Goswami. He said over 30,000 people have been evacuated to safer places.

Cooked, ready to eat food packages and 30 tons of bottled water were airlifted for distribution among an estimated four lakh people marooned in flood waters. Many of those stranded remained perched on rooftops. Reports said over 2,000 villages were submerged in Kashmir along with Srinagar.

Landline phones were restored in areas near the Srinagar airport in a major relief to authorities. Breakdown of communication networks since Sunday had hampered rescue operations. Officials said telephone networks were being restored on war footing.

The water levels in areas inundated due to breaches in Jehlum receded. But the water level of the Dal Lake was steadily rising as the Jehlum waters were diverted into it.

Overflowing waters from the lake had entered areas around the Hazratbal shrine and the nearby National Institute of Technology campus. Many residents complained rescuers had not reached them yet.

A news agency quoted an unnamed Disaster Response Force official saying "the damage is shocking" with people stranded on their rooftops.

Officials pleading anonymity said the rescue operations were delayed in Kashmir as flood alerts were not issued on time. An official was quoted saying "they were all caught off guard because there was not a single warning issued by the weather office". The Central Water Commission has taken a lot of flak for not issuing flood advisories.

Additional disaster response teams were separately rushed to Srinagar, where the Union home ministry set up a control room to oversee rescue operations.

In Jammu region, the worst-hit Rajouri and Poonch districts remained cut off. Relief material was flown it but it has not been reportedly distributed in the remote areas. Sources said at least 143 people have died in the Jammu region alone.

The train service to Vaishno Devi near Jammu was restored days after Shri Shakti Express was stuck at Ramnagar due to mudslides on Saturday. The pilgrimage to the shrine was resumed on Monday after four days.

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