Anger rife in Kashmir amid slow rescue

Thousands still stranded in India-administered Kashmir as government’s rescue and relief efforts come under criticism.

Accusations that authorities rescued top bureaucrats, tourists, and non-locals first runs rife in Kashmir [EPA]

Srinagar, India-administered Kashmir – In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, Aasia Tariq, mother of two, stepped out of her home to gauge the water level following days of torrential rains. The moment she set foot in the lane she saw fountains of water sprouting out of the drains.

“And then in half-an-hour, our ground floor was deluged,” she told Al Jazeera describing how her multi-storey house in the Tulsi Bagh neighbourhood of Srinagar, summer capital of India-administered Kashmir, was swallowed by the flood waters – the worst in 100 years.

She was lucky to escape along with her two kids when a police truck ferried the family to the nearby central Budgam district, but many others were not.

“My five year old son is trapped in the third storey of a school,” a woman in her mid-30s pleaded to volunteers. “The school is near Ikhrajpora. Please save him,” she said.

Deadly floods 

Srinagar, a city of one million people, was particularly badly hit, with the official death toll standing at 220 people. Five days after the deadly floods began, around 600,000 residents of Srinagar and southern Kashmir remain trapped inside their submerged homes amid slow rescue efforts and desperate calls for international aid.

“The surge was fast. I saw water pounding our windows and doors. I grabbed my three children and ran towards the top floor. My wife could salvage just a few important documents. Everything else was destroyed in the mud water,” Tasaduq Hussain told Al Jazeera after being rescued on Wednesday by local people.

The surge was fast. I saw water pounding our windows and doors. I grabbed my three children and ran towards the top floor. My wife could salvage just a few important documents. Everything else was deluged in the mud water.

by - Tasaduq Hussain, flood survivor

In Nowgam, on the outskirts of Srinagar, the scenes were appalling. One woman in her mid-thirties continued to beat her chest with tears rolling down her face. Bystanders tried to console the aggrieved mother.

“I left my four-month old baby in the house while fleeing,” she said describing to other survivors how pleas for help were ignored as “everybody ran to saving themselves first”.

Sunday’s deluge turned Jhelum river which meanders through the valley, into a mighty wall of water blasting its banks and ravaging homes built in posh and poor neighbourhoods alike.

Within minutes it shattered nearly all the main hospitals, schools, courts, the secretariat and one of the largest military cantonments of Asia at Badami Bagh neighbourhood.

Authorities have struggled to salvage the communication lines, radio and TV centre.

The Indian army claims it has rescued more than 70,000 people so far, while thousands of local volunteers armed with tyre tubes and boats made of rolled thermoplastic have pitched in to aid rescue efforts.

At Tengpora neighbourhood, Al Jazeera crossed the neck-height water to find flood victims camped on road dividers and a bridge with both sides still under water.

Some could be seen crying under the open sun, others seeking aid from passing trucks. Inside the locality, those still trapped were seen shouting out from the roof tops seeking help and fresh water from the passing ferries.

Death zones

On the otherwise less-used embankment of a flood channel at Jawahir Nagar, the surrounding looked like a mourning zone full of wailing people and screaming families.

The rescuers took survivors from Rajbagh and Jawahir Nagar neighbourhoods – the worst-hit – on makeshift boats to different relief camps. Many were sheltered inside cars, three-wheelers, tarpaulin tents, and under the shade of mulberry trees.

People here accuse the authorities of prioritising the rescuing of top bureaucrats, tourists and non-locals over residents. 

Anger has grown ever since media reports claimed that the state government was reportedly warned in 2010 of massive floods and that India’s Central Water Commission – the premier water resources organisation accountable for flood predictions and advisories – had no mechanism in place for Kashmir.

While the response of the authorities is being questioned, locals have initiated massive relief efforts.

I had a cauliflower field spread over one acre of land. With the help of my villagers I cut it and distributed it among the victims.

by - Shabir Wani, farmer

Hundreds of truckloads of vegetables, rice, food, fruits, water, baby milk, and medicines have been delivered into the safe zones of the valley.

“I had a cauliflower field spread over one acre of land. With the help of my villagers I cut it and distributed it among the victims,” Shabir Wani, a short-statured youth from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district told Al Jazeera.

“The magnitude of destruction is immense. We heard there are a number of casualties.”

Others studying or working outside the state have flown tube boats and relief material to help in the rescue efforts.

Without communication lines, villagers in Rawalpora continue to search for their missing.

“For the last seven days, my brother is missing along with his seven-year-old son,” Javeda Begum told Al Jazeera.

“No phone calls. No contact. He was trapped in Batamaloo locality when the floods struck,” she said.

Politicisation of rescue

While the floods have affected both sides of Kashmir – a territory divided between India and Pakistan – the two countries have refused to cooperate in a joint effort.

In Kashmir where anti-India sentiments run deep, the Indian media has come under fire for “politicising” the rescue efforts launched by thousands of its soldiers stationed here to quell an armed rebellion that erupted in 1989.

RELATED: Relief efforts and politics collide in Kashmir floods media coverage

Sanam Aijaz, a local journalist, who was rescued after seven days from the inner city neighbourhood of Qamarwari, said his pleas to be rescued were rejected by the soldiers who had come with a boat looking for survivors.

“They did not offer any help. Instead they taunted me to throw a stone,” Aijaz told Al Jazeera while referring to anti-India demonstrations and stone pelting protests that are common in the old city.

Aijaz said he was rescued by his cousins, who had come all the way from northern Sopore town with a makeshift boat.

The Indian army could not be reached for comment.

Follow Wasim Khalid on Twitter: @WasemKhalid