Someone has put a small heap of yellow rice on a raised cemented stand for an electricity transformer. A street dog, shocked and shivering, sat there but didn’t touch it. A few are clinging together on the top of a broken brick wall, trying to survive in the flooded surroundings. Unlike for humans, the boats and makeshift rafts do not stop for them. What used to be a bustling lane that meanders deep through this old neighbourhood four days ago, today looks like a river.
With a group of local volunteers, on a makeshift raft made out of foam mattresses, a team of the The Indian Express entered the old city wading through chest-deep water to witness rescue and relief efforts. At the entry of this neighbourhood, there were floating carcasses of dogs and cattle, emanating intense foul smell. An Army boat was slowly returning with a group of men and women and both the soldiers and the survivors looked exhausted. It was probably for the first time that the Armymen were seen without arms in this neighbourhood.
A few yards ahead, a woman appeared on the window and later dropped a utensil tied to a rope. Two men sitting on a makeshift raft, made of two empty plastic tanks, stopped and filled it with milk. She and her family members were not able to leave when the water was dangerously high. Once the water started to recede, the family decided to stay put as the other option was to live on the pavement of a near by highway, where several other survivors have erected tents.
As we reached Shah Faisal Abad Lane, distributing food items among the stranded residents, someone shouted from a window that water level in the lane was high. Mohammed Shafi Shala’s family hadn’t been rescued and he was desperately looking for baby food. There were two toddlers in the house who had almost nothing to eat for last two days.
About 100-metre ahead in Banapora neighbourhood, Shakeel Ahmad Mir’s house had caved in. Ahead, Tariq Ahmad Khan’s home too collapsed and no one knew how these families escaped. “It was the first night of the flood,” a youth who had come out in lane on a tyre tube. “It was dark and scary. Everybody was trying to save themselves.”
Unlike the posh localities such as Jawaharnagar and Rajbagh, this old neighbourhood has a feel of a village. Several families here rear cattle, especially cows. “There was no rescue here. But we did get occasional food packages that were hurled from the road since yesterday,’’ said Mohamamd Iqbal Bhat. “We had asked Armymen and volunteers to bring some cattle feed. The cow was mowing loudly.” Bhat said his cow and a calf died due to hunger. “We didn’t know what to do so we have kept their carcasses inside only.” His neighbour Abdul Raheem Dar too has lost two of his cows.
A few hundred metres ahead, more than 50 people have taken refuge in a mosque. “We don’t have water to drink. Please give us some water,’’ a man shouts. The rescue team had carried a few cartons of drinking water along so they somehow climbed the fence wall and put it on a dry corner.
In fact, several people trapped in this congested locality said they don’t have drinking water and complained that no rescuer came this way. “No rescue boat tried to come into this narrow lane. They wouldn’t leave the road,’’ said Mohamamd Sidiq Dar, who had come out on the verandah of his top floor. A few yards ahead, a man was in distress. Two children in his family had fever for two days and he had no way to get medical help. In fact, three other families too said that their children were ill.
At the edge of this narrow lane, a frail woman was waving franticly. When the volunteers reached close to the window amid neck deep water, she was in tears. Mubina from Bihar is married to Muneer from Lolab and they have three children.
Muneer works as a labourer in Hyderpora and last Saturday, he had tried to escape the flood and run to his home in Lolab. They couldn’t go beyond Batamaloo and a family here gave them shelter. “My youngest child has not had anything since last night,’’ Muneera said. “There was not enough food in the house and the family that gave us shelter too was getting jittery.”
The volunteers put the family on the two mattress rafts and start the journey back to the dry patch on the highway.