Jammu and Kashmir floods: In Srinagar, torn between being brother, nephew and reporter

The full extent of the fury of the floods had started to become apparent. Aircel was the only functional network.

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | Updated: September 11, 2014 8:00 am
People being rescued from a flooded area in Srinagar on Wednesday. (Source: Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal) People being rescued from a flooded area in Srinagar on Wednesday. (Source: Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

At 3 am on September 8, I was able to finally speak with my uncle in Srinagar. “The ground floor of the house is submerged, and the water is rising,” he could say before the line got disconnected.

My uncle lives in a colony built by the government in Bemina neighbourhood where even the apprehension of a flood has never existed. I was in Delhi, and could not get through to him again.

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The full extent of the fury of the floods in the Valley had started to become apparent. Aircel was the only functional network, and whenever I could speak to my family, the message was of distress. For hours earlier, the news from Srinagar had sounded more like exaggerated fears. Nobody had expected this fury in the Jhelum, the calm river that flowed silently through the city.

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But Pampore town, which lies on the banks of the Jhelum just before it enters Srinagar, had been submerged two days earlier. My youngest sister lives in Pampore. An aunt in Pulwama had floodwater in her home. Another sister’s husband and eight-year-old son were trapped on the top floor of a building in Bemina.

Still, when I rushed to Srinagar, I had been hoping to travel to Pampore to see my sister and her family. I was also hoping to reach my uncle, who doesn’t even live that far. Three days later, my search hasn’t even begun.

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I am trapped in a safe zone created on a dry patch of uptown Srinagar city. I have made an effort every day to go to the “border”, where the dark floodwaters that have submerged neighbourhoods begin. I am torn between being a brother, a nephew and a reporter.

All that I have is the hope that news from my relatives would be comforting once the waters recede. There is no way for me to even plead for a rescue boat to look for my relatives. Pampore seems in another continent. I can’t even take a rescue boat there.

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Standing at the point from where the Army, NDRF and volunteers are sending out boats to search for people trapped in Jawaharnagar, Rajbagh, Kursu and Magarmal Bagh, the only reassurance comes from seeing the boats return with rescued inhabitants.

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Even after 96 hours, there is no way to find out what has happened in the submerged areas. No government official is available to provide details. Survivors can speak of only their immediate neighbourhoods. The priority of the Army, Air Force and NDRF remains rescue. The police are trying to rebuild their fractured formations. There are no medical teams to attend to the rescued people once they are brought to dry land. The disappearance of the government has meant that a defeaning silence has descended over the story of this deluge.

For Kashmir, September 7 was Black Sunday: a long, scary night spent awake watching the dark waters rise in its capital city, followed by a morning drowned in a nightmare of water that hasn’t ended yet. The Jhelum had wreaked havoc all along its meandering path through south Kashmir — and yet, the drowning of Srinagar was unbelievable, unimaginable.

Communications is affected across Jammu and Kashmir. Communications is affected across Jammu and Kashmir.

Even as the river rose at Sangum near Anantnag to levels where the Flood Control Department couldn’t even find their gauge, residents of the capital city believed the water would come and go, perhaps staying behind for a while in shallow pools and low-lying areas.

One night early in the disaster, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was out, monitoring the rescue of a toddler from an inundated house. His men were making rounds of places where a few days’ rain triggers fears of inundation: illegal colonies in the Jhelum’s catchment area, which have been allowed to exist because they fetch votes.

Once the waters retreat, and what they have left behind in the neighbourhoods of the city emerges in full, Srinagar is likely to see a second flood — of public anger. Which might be equally difficult to contain.

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