Who will ostracise ghosts of the Sept. 6, 2014 Kashmir floods? (A Year After)

Srinagar, Sep 6 (IANS) Few Kashmiris can forget the night of September 6, 2014 and the horror that continued for nearly a month after unprecedented floods hit Jammu and Kashmir this day last year. Summer capital Srinagar bore the brunt of nature’s fury on that day.

As scores of houses collapsed in Srinagar’s posh residential areas, so did the state government and the capacity of the administration to organise timely rescue and relief operations.

Thousands of people in Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Wazir Bagh, Gogjibagh, Rambagh, Solina, Barzalla, Chanapora, Bemina, Natipora, Nowpora, Karan Nagar, Shetrashshi and Qamarwari areas hurriedly left their homes, leaving behind everything thay had put together in their nests.

These were the ‘fortunate’ ones, the less fortunate ones got trapped by flood waters those rose right unto over 15 feet from the plinth levels of their homes.

The trapped residents took refuge in the attics of their submerged homes, waiting for the administration to rescue them.

The government that they pinned their hopes on could not function because its highest office and the seat of governance, the civil secretariat, was inundated and became inaccessible for the chief minister, his ministerial colleagues and all the senior bureaucrats of the state.

Not that any government in power could have prevented the flood or its magnitude, but the suffering and trauma of the trapped people and their friends and relatives could have been mitigated if rescue operations had been started promptly and been conducted efficiently.

Locals living in those areas of Srinagar that were not hit by the floods, especially those living in the old city, did a commendable job.

Youths, who otherwise engaged in stone pelting clashes with the police and the central paramilitary forces, started relief operations that helped not only many trapped civilians but also police and paramilitary personnel in the inundated areas.

The army launched helicopter sorties and motorised boats to rescue civilians and its own personnel.

Locals augmented the efforts of the National Disaster Relief Force and the army. Given the magnitude of the floods, it was as feared hundreds could have died, not only in the deluge but also in house collapses.

It was fortunate that only 30 lives were lost in the Valley, and the victims included three army personnel who died during the relief and rescue operation.

Losses to individual properties and businesses ran into thousands of crores of rupees.

The state government sent a loss-memo of Rs.44,000 crores ($6.5 billion) to the central government for immediate assistance.

That was in October 2014. After the state assembly elections in November-December of that year, a new coalition government took office in Jammu and Kashmir in March.

That loss-memo is still gathering dust with the central government.

Ordinary citizens, including government servants, transport operators, street vendors, shopkeepers and hoteliers, have started rebuilding their homes and businesses.

Tourism this year did not pick up to expected levels because the threat of another deluge loomed large on everybody’s mind as rivers and other water bodies got swollen each time it rained.

Experts say silt and sand have raised the beds of all the water bodies of Kashmir, including its largest river, the Jhelum.

Massive dredging operations are needed to ensure that normal rivers do not cause future floods in the Valley.

Autumn has again set in Kashmir. The countryside is slowly turning golden brown because of the ripening paddy fields.

The soothing warmth of the autumnal sun provides the best opportunity to local youths and elders for outing. It is the best season in Kashmir, but the scars left behind by the autumnal floods of 2014 will take ages to heal.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

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