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47,000 evacuated as massive rescue ops gather pace, 4 lakh still stranded in J-K floods

A massive multi-agency rescue and relief operation gathered pace as the rain eased with air force and civilian helicopters and transport aircraft conducting non-stop sorties and rescuing over a thousand people and dropping relief material in submerged areas of south Kashmir and Srinagar. Media reports said over 47,000 people had been evacuated so far but close to 400,000 were still stranded, in their homes or in makeshift tents and ill-prepared rescue camps.

The worst floods to hit Jammu and Kashmir in 60 years have left at least 200 people dead in the past week and around 2,000 villages under several feet of muddy water. The disaster has brought devastation to the other side of the border too with over 230 dead and nearly half a million affected in Pakistan’s Punjab and in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Power and communication lines in Kashmir remained snapped and restoring these was a top priority, Union home secretary Anil Goswami said in Delhi.

A power station in Srinagar that feeds the entire Valley is under water. The only communication available is through satellite phones and the Aircel network.

The Srinagar-Leh national highway connecting Ladakh with the Kashmir Valley reopened after remaining closed for seven days due to heavy rain, boosting connectivity to the flood-hit region. But the more vital 300-km Jammu-Srinagar highway stayed shut for the sixth day.

As his government faced the wrath of the people, chief minister Omar Abdullah said, “I am not bothered by the criticism. At least it shows they have been rescued, are alive and breathing to be able to shout slogans against my government.” The Congress’ Saifudin Soz was heckled and booed at a relief camp in Srinagar.

Denying his government had been caught napping, the CM said, “We don’t have the resources of the army or air force but we gave prior warning through mosques and police. Our warnings were not heeded.”

The civil aviation ministry has two Air India planes on standby in Srinagar. In addition, state-run Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd and private chopper firms have pitched in, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju Pusapati said. “Our planes are ready to carry passengers or relief material provided by the government or any NGO free of charge,” said Air India CMD Rohit Nandan, adding that all 17 daily flights to Srinagar, including those operated by private carriers, were “going on normally”.

Aircel is offering free calls to its customers in J-K for the next two days (September 10 and 11) and has also set up mobile charging units and calling booths equipped with handsets, the company said. State-owned BSNL managed to get a temporary exchange going in Srinagar on Tuesday but said restoration of mobile, fixed line and internet services would take four to five days. Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth said the department of telecommunications was trying its best to restore tower services quickly. 

In Delhi, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was in talks with Google to press into service an app, Person Finder, that allows its users to search for relatives or friends affected by a disaster. The system — successfully used during last year’s Uttarakhand rain disaster — is expected to be operation by Wednesday morning.

Goswami said the Centre had asked the J-K government to upload the names of those rescued on its website as early as possible so that family members could at least be assured of their safety.

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