Hundreds of thousands still stranded by Kashmir floods

2014-09-13 16:15
An aerial view of the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. (Dar Yasin, AP)

An aerial view of the Dal Lake in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. (Dar Yasin, AP)

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Srinagar - Rescuers struggled to reach more than 200 000 people still stranded on Saturday in Indian Kashmir as deadly floodwaters receded, revealing horrific devastation in the Himalayan region including neighbouring Pakistan, officials said.

A smell of death hung in the air as animal carcasses lay in the roads of Indian Kashmir's normally scenic main city of Srinagar, a top tourist draw, that one top official said had been "drowned completely" by the worst floods in over a century.

"This in not a flood, this is a tsunami," Mehraj-Ud-Din Shah, Indian Kashmir State Disaster Response Force chief, told AFP by phone from Srinagar on Saturday.

"There's a stench everywhere as animals have died and their bodies are floating around," fuelling concern about the spread of water-borne disease, Shah said.

The floods and landslides from days of heavy monsoon rains have now claimed at least 480 lives in Pakistan and India.

But officials on both sides of the border said it was still too early to assess fully the extent of the disaster with many roads still impassable.

"There's no milk for children and they're crying day and night. The authorities supply us with rice but children need bread and milk," one survivor, Fizza Mai, 45, at a Pakistani relief camp, told AFP.

In both countries, security forces were using boats and helicopters to deliver food supplies and evacuate survivors. People waved from rooftops and upper-storey windows to attract attention.

Rescuers attacked

In Indian Kashmir, there was anger over slow rescue efforts. Some rescuers had been attacked, although now such incidents had diminished, Indian Kashmir State disaster chief Shah said.

"My men have been beaten up, our boats have been attacked with stones. If people are depressed they can do anything. They blame the government for not doing anything," he said.

"We try to calm them down by saying 'We will help you, we will help your family, come with us'," he said.

In flood-hit areas in Pakistan, some people waded through knee-deep water to escape with many carrying children and household belongings on their backs while others led livestock.

Two dykes on a flooded river were blown up to save the historic southern Pakistani city of Multan, home to two million and nerve centre of the country's textile industry, from the muddy, swirling floodwaters that have caused widespread crop damage.

Some 280 people have died from the heavy rains and flooding in the Punjab, Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan regions, Ahmed Kamal, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told AFP, while over 214 000 people had been evacuated.

Pakistan, which has suffered a series of annual flood diasters, says as many as 2.29 million people have been affected.

In Indian Kashmir, as waters subsided, emergency officials were able to get to more afflicted areas.

"More than 200 000 people are still stranded," Shantmanu, Jammu region divisional commissioner, who uses one name, told AFP.

But rescue teams are now able to increasingly get "inside houses and get out those still trapped inside and account for dead bodies," he said.

In some areas, TV footage showed entire villages wiped out, their houses smashed by floodwaters that swept away their occupants. Strewn on the ground were household items like saucepans and cups and soggy clothing.

Winter approaching

The government estimates at least 200 people died and 142,000 people have been rescued in the restive region Kashmir where militants have been fighting Indian rule since the late 1980s.

State chief minister Omar Abdullah promised houses would be rebuilt before "the immense cold" of winter strikes.

"There's no question of people living in tents in winter," he said in Srinagar.

Some 137 relief camps were operating in the Kashmir valley alone assisting over 100,000 people, officials said.

But "with only 65 days before snow is forecast in the [Kashmir] valley, the race against time has already begun for the rehabilitation process," warned Bipul Borah, a senior Oxfam charity official.

Abdullah said "clean-drinking water" was a problem and disinfectants like chlorine were being used to avert water-borne diseases.

State disaster response chief Shah said the flood had left just one of Indian Kashmir's main government hospitals functioning.

"We need more doctors. People have lost everything they are suffering from depression," he said.

As streets were being cleared, many flocked to Srinagar airport where there are not enough flights.

"More than 5 000 people are waiting at the airport," Shantmanu of Jammu region said.

Migrant workers were also trekking from the state on foot with the army setting up relief camps along the way.

Abdullah has defended the slow official response, saying no-one could have anticipated the disaster's ferocity and magnitude.

Read more on:    india  |  natural disasters

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