India and Pakistan scramble to send aid to flooded Kashmir Valley

Monsoon rains have inundated towns and villages in northeast Pakistan and India-administered Kashmir, killing nearly 140 people in both countries. Pakistan's Army is leading aid efforts there.

Mukhtar Khan/AP
Rescue workers paddle a boat past a submerged truck as they leave a flooded neighborhood in Srinagar, India, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. At least 100 villages across the Kashmir valley were flooded by overflowing lakes and rivers, in the worst flooding in 22 years caused by heavy rains.

Early rescue efforts are underway in the Kashmir Valley, as the region struggles to cope with flash flooding that has killed dozens.

Heavy rainfall started Wednesday in northeast Pakistan and Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region split between Pakistan and India. At least 72 people have been killed across Pakistan and 65 in India-administered Kashmir, the Associated Press reports

Christian Science Monitor correspondent Syed Nazakat, reporting from Srinagar, capital of India-controlled Kashmir, says he’s seen families displaced from their homes, a hospital evacuated, and people on the streets giving advice on what roads to avoid.

“I’ve never seen such flooding here,” says Mr. Nazakat, who was raised in the Kashmir Valley and visits frequently. “It’s one of the worst national calamities in Kashmir.”

India’s DNA newspaper says the flooding in Kashmir is the worst in six decades. In 2010, monsoon floods in Pakistan affected over 20 million people and cost billions of dollars in infrastructure and crop damage, far more than the current flooding.  

The Indian Army deployed 85 troops to the region and has rescued 2,500 people so far, the Times of India reports.

At least 300 rescuers are in Kashmir from the National Disaster Response Force, a local official told the AP. The state government has pledged $3.3 million for search and rescue efforts, and is beginning to set up rescue shelters. For rescue efforts, boats were employed and local mosques piped out warnings. 

Soldiers and rescue workers used boats to move thousands of people to higher ground. The public address systems in local mosques were used to warn people in the worst-hit neighborhoods to move to safety. 

In Pakistan, the most serious flooding is in Punjab Province bordering Kashmir. The head of the local disaster management agency says most deaths occurred when the roofs on their homes collapsed

The Army has been the main source of relief efforts in Pakistan, Reuters reports:

Pakistan's civilian governments have long been perceived as riddled by corruption and largely ineffective, leaving the powerful military to step in during disasters.

This week, the army moved in across Punjab to carry out flood relief work while poorly resourced civilian authorities struggled to help.

Television pictures showed a military helicopter evacuating people trapped by floods in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad. No floods were reported in the capital which has also seen continuous torrential rainfall since Thursday.

In southern Kashmir, the Jhelum River is at its highest level ever recorded – 4 feet above the danger level, chief irrigation and flood control engineer Javed Jaffer told the Washington Post.

Shuja’at Bukhari, editor in chief of a local newspaper, Rising Kashmir, told the Post that the floods are worse than those he reported on in Kashmir in 1994, and that there was little warning given to citizens.

"This time the rains show no intention to stop, may God be with us," he said. 

The government only began giving alerts to people in Srinagar on Wednesday, he said, claiming there was little to no preparedness for disaster management.

“It’s not only a question of what people face today but what they will face after the rain has subsided -- the damage,” he said, warning of the long-term impact with such a large number of houses damaged. 

The Monitor’s Nazakat says there was a large crowd for Friday prayers at mosques in Srinagar, and that there have been ongoing meetings to pray for the rain to stop.

Pakistan’s meteorological service warned there could be more flash flooding this weekend. 

The crisis has "touched almost every part of the Kashmir Valley,” says Nazakat. “We’ve had problems with massive snow before, but never so much rain.” 

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