For the last few days, the state government has been publicising some helpline numbers, assuring people that rescue teams are readily available. But the ground situation belies that claim, with official rescue teams missing and residents being the only source of help for those who are stranded.
Even as the water level of the Jhelum crossed the danger mark, there was no warning from the government. Early on Sunday morning, the river breached the embankment, flooding Residency Road, which is the city’s lifeline, parts of Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogji Bagh and Wazir Bagh areas of Srinagar.
Many tourists have been stranded at Rajbagh, which houses many hotels. From the third storey of a guesthouse in Rajbagh, some of them could be seen crying for help. About 10 metres away, some residents were trying to rescue them, but they were helpless without any boats or lifesaving equipment.
“Please help us, take us out of here,” the group of tourists shouted from the guesthouse. “This (guesthouse) is sinking, please take us out,” they cried.
“What can we do with our bare hands? Let the government give us a few boats, we will rescue the people. But there are no officials anywhere,” said Abdul Rashid, a resident. “We are here to give them hope. We are telling them that help will come soon,” he said.
An official at Srinagar’s flood control room said they have been receiving hundreds of distress calls from across the city. “We are just conveying the message to the nearest police station, and they try to rescue the people. Even we are uncertain how to deal with this situation.”
Officials said there are nearly 15,000 tourists in the city. “Our Tourism Minister himself is trapped. We could not rescue him,” said an official.
“When I heard the sound of gushing water, I rushed out of my house,” said Firdous Ahmad, another resident. “Within five minutes, my house was under water. We didn’t even get time to take out our important documents.”
Mushtaq Ahmed, whose family has been trapped since Saturday night inside their three-storey house at Rajbagh, said, “I called many officials and the control room in Srinagar but no one has came to rescue us. My 80-year-old mother is trapped here and we couldn’t move her outside.”
“The government should have warned us that the water level would rise,” said a businessman at Lal Chowk, also called Mushtaq Ahmad. “Instead, throughout the day they assured us that the weather would improve and the water level would decrease. The weather has improved but the water level is only increasing,” he said.
Other areas of the city that have been flooded are Badami Bagh Cantonment, Indira Nagar, Shivpora, Sonawar, Hari Singh High Street, Qamarwari, Shaheed Gunj, Zainakote, Kakasarai and the roads leading to the Civil Secretariat, fire and emergency services and the police control room. The Valley’s lone children’s hospital and the Tourist Reception Centre are also under water.
Chief engineer (flood control and irrigation, Kashmir) Javed Jafer put the onus on the Army: “It is the Army that has to rescue people. The state administration is trying its best. The water level has been maintained in Srinagar, though the whole city is submerged.”
State officials said they don’t have enough boats to rescue people.