(by Muzamil Jaleel)
Srinagar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the Kashmir floods a natural calamity. It was partly true. Having devastated villages and towns across south Kashmir with the furious streams that form the Jhelum’s tributaries, nature did give the government machinery a full six days to prepare for what would follow in Srinagar. Each day, the gorge at Sangam on the outskirts of Anantnag served a warning for Srinagar. But when the waters gushed in, submerging almost the entire city, it still caught inhabitants unawares. The fury might not have been tamed but the government could have evacuated residents well ahead, and got ready with management measures.
“We heard announcements on Saturday that water is coming, and in an hour it came breaking our walls and splashing into our house. We did not know whether to run upstairs or run through the waters in darkness,” said Waqar Ahmed Dar of Rajbagh. “We thought we were safe on the second floor but the water rose endlessly. We waited for someone to rescue us. Cellphones were not working. We shouted to our neighbours but they too were stranded on the top floors of their houses.”
Eventually, a group of youths on two makeshift rafts made of tyre tubes and wood planks rescued him and three others of his family. “While these angels were taking us out, dozens of other stranded people were shouting. They wanted to save everyone but did not have proper boats.”
Dar was on Monday at Rambagh bridge, which has become a boundary between a small safe zone and the water world that surrounds it. This is one of the places from where policemen and NDRF personnel are sending out boats. “We are trying our best but there is not enough equipment to speed it up,” a police officer said. Each time a group of survivors was brought here, hundreds of waiting people would rush to check if their relatives had finally arrived. Scores would give officers the coordinates of their loved ones. Srinagar does not have house numbers everywhere and no landmarks were visible under the flood waters.
“My house was surrounded by 10 feet of water. I swam out somehow. My wife and four-year-old daughter were trapped inside. I looked for help for hours. This phone is the most useless thing I was carrying,” said Gulzar Ahmed, a Sumo driver from Galwanpora. “I had to drive to Sheikhpora in Budgam to buy a boat. That is how I rescued my family.”
In posh Rajbagh and Jawahar Nagar neighbourhoods close to the riverbank, the effects were immediate. Residents had no time to escape. Though the government did issue warnings to these neighbourhoods, it was only two hours before the waters started galloping across the embankments. Dozens of houses collapsed and nobody knows the fate of the residents. Across Srinagar, the number of houses that went under is in hundreds. “We heard a thud and there was dust blowing. A two-storey house I had been seeing since childhood vanished,” said Khalid Ahmed, rescued Monday from Natipora.
The water has started to recede but dropped only a few feet. Many remain trapped inside their houses. The government has not declared whether anybody has died in the city. The few rescue boats take out only those who shout for help from within submerged houses. At Rambagh bridge, a National Conference politician came to blows with a senior police officer after demanding priority for people known to him.
Frantic calls kept coming about a 95-year-old man trapped in a house at Rajbagh. Two colonies at Bemina, called MIG and HIG, are under water. “We are in the attic and the water is a just a few feet away,” resident Khurshid Ahmed said on the phone. Two dozen people stranded in a house have a little charge left on their lone Aircel phone. “We are hungry and scared,” he said, before the phone went dead.
(Courtesy: Indian Express)