Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Sunday visit Jammu and Kashmir, where heavy rainfall over the past five days has caused the worst flood in the state in six decades, killing at least 107 people and rendering thousands homeless.
Modi called a review meeting on Saturday where Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who returned to Delhi after touring the flood-affected areas, briefed him. “After reviewing the situation, the Prime Minister decided to visit Jammu and Kashmir to personally assess the gravity of the situation and understand the problems being faced by the people,” said the Prime Minister’s Office in a statement. This will be Modi’s third visit to the state and second to the Valley since he became the Prime Minister.
Army officials involved in rescue operations termed the situation as grim as after last year’s Uttarakhand flash floods. Over 2,000 villages have been submerged and the loss to property and crops has run into hundreds of crores.
Weather officials, however, expect the rain to stop soon. “Tonight there will be more rain, but hopefully from Sunday, weather will improve,” Director, Srinagar Met Department, Sonum Lotus said.
Three major highways in J&K — Srinagar-Jammu, Srinagar-Leh and Mughal Road — are all closed due to massive landslides. A major portion of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway has been swept away. Rail service on the Jammu-Udhampur-Katra stretch and Banihal-Qazigund-Baramulla has remained suspended for the past three-four days following landslides.
In South Kashmir, communication links are down, while many areas continue to be without power and drinking water. Several parts of Jammu city have not had electricity or water supply since Friday night.
On Saturday afternoon, nine Armymen men on rescue mission were washed away in Kakapora, Pulwama, of which seven were found later. The fate of the other two remains unknown.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday urged the Centre to declare the floods as a “national calamity”, according to a party statement. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is in Srinagar, spoke to the Prime Minister on phone and sought his personal attention in view of the “very grave and grim situation”.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who surveyed the affected areas in both Kashmir and Jammu regions on Saturday, assured the state government of all help. “The Prime Minister has announced Rs 2 lakh ex-gratia relief to next of kin of those who died and Rs 50,000 for those injured,” he said. The Centre has also sent six helicopters to help in rescue operations.
Worried over rising waters, the Jammu administration blocked vehicular movement over many bridges in Chenab and Tawi rivers on Saturday. Jammu region has been the worst affected, especially Rajouri and Poonch, with 100 of the 107 deaths reported from there.
At many places, people are living on roads or have turned vehicles into temporary shelters. Thousands of pilgrims are stranded at Katra, with the pilgrimage to the Vaishno Devi shrine suspended.
Two major hospitals in Srinagar — its lone Bone and Joint Hospital and Jhelum Valley Medical College Hospital — had to be closed Saturday after floodwater entered the premises. Patients admitted there have been shifted to other hospitals or discharged.
While in Srinagar, Jhelum was flowing above the danger mark, it breached embankments at several places in Pulwama and Anantnag districts. “I have never seen such a bad flood in my life,” said Wali Mohammad, who had to leave his house in Pandrethan along with family.
The government has issued a fresh warning to people living in the vicinity of rivers and streams to immediately shift to safer areas.
Commissioner Secretary, Revenue and Relief, Vinod Koul said as per latest reports, 390 villages had been submerged in the Valley while 1,225 were partially affected, while in Jammu division, a thousand villages had been affected. Besides, Koul said, 50 bridges and hundreds of kilometres of roads as well as power installations had been damaged.
Chief Engineer, Flood Control and Irrigation Department, Javid Jaffer said while the state’s river and flood channels could carry 65,000 cusecs of water, the current discharge was over 90,000 cusecs.
The Army has rescued more than 8,000 people so far. On Saturday, its High Altitude Warfare School, Sonamarg, rescued 10 nomads, including a small girl. Ten tourists were rescued at Nitchnaie.
Altogether 120 Army columns have been deployed across the state. With four boats in stock, the headquarters of 15 Corps in Srinagar has asked for additional rescue boats — at least 10 — from Chandigarh besides keeping ready emergency rations such as sugar, water, life jackets, ropes, logs and tenting.
“We are waiting for the weather to open and we will be airlifting the contingent and delivering it to our teams who are already engaged in rescue operations; but we need more logistical support,” said Brigadier Ali Adil Mahmood, BGS, Infosystem, HQ 15 Corps.
While the river which flows along the Jammu-Srinagar highway has cut the links to villages in southern parts of the valley, areas in Khanabal, Badgam and Manasbal remain the worst affected.
(Inputs from ENS, New Delhi)