Desperate residents were huddled on rooftops Monday as they tried to escape flood waters which have already claimed more than 350 lives in India and Pakistan and left tens of thousands homeless.
With phone lines down and roads cut off, the exact scale of the disaster in the cross-border Kashmir region and Pakistan’s Punjab province is still unclear but video footage shot from army helicopters showed entire villages completely under water.
As teams of divers worked round the clock in Indian Kashmir to help bring people to safety, residents could be seen waving from rooftops while vehicles and livestock were washed away by the surging waters.
Disaster officials say at least 350 villages have been submerged on the Indian side of the de-facto border by torrential monsoon rains, making it the deadliest flooding disaster there for half a century.
Thousands of troops, police and other emergency personnel, backed by helicopters and boats, have fanned out across the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the state to deliver blankets, tents and other aid in an attempt to minimise casualties, the Indian officials said.
A total of 5,183 people had been rescued so far and the relief effort is being intensified.
“The issue remains grim, we have intensified our rescue operations,” O.P. Singh, director general of the National Disaster Response Force, told reporters in New Delhi.
“In some of the areas the water is so high that we are not being able to reach there unless we are airlifted.
“It’s very difficult to say how many are trapped, how many are stranded in different localities. It can only come out when people are completely rescued.”
— Divers work ‘day and night’ —
A spokesman for the Indian navy said that teams of divers had been deployed to the affected areas and were working “day and night” but were currently “incommunicado”.
“We are all waiting for that (weather to clear) so that communication lines get open,” D. K. Sharma told India’s NDTV network.
Communications were lost on Sunday when the rain-swollen Jhelum river flooded large parts of Srinagar.
Vinod Vishen, a resident of Srinagar’s upmarket Karan Nagar neighbourhood, described on Facebook how he had moved his entire family to the top of the house.
“Water rising relentlessly,” Vishen wrote, later expressing fears that old houses in the area could collapse.
“Old houses are expected to collapse as water softens up the weight bearing walls. Very very grim situation,” he posted.
Srinagar’s main hospital, army barracks and high court are among the buildings to have been badly hit, according to the Press Trust of India.
There was no fresh rainfall on Monday and forecasters said that only light drizzle was likely in the next few days.
But despite the respite, officials warned that the death toll is bound to rise.
“Unofficially, the casualties are most definitely over 150 (in Indian Kashmir) right now. This is a flash flood. Thankfully people are not without any help,” an official of the Indian National Disaster Management Authority told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
In Pakistan, officials said the death toll now stood at 205, with the majority of deaths recorded in Punjab province.
Helicopters, troops and other emergency personnel have been deployed in flood-hit areas for rescue and relief operations, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NMDA).
The death toll in Punjab currently stands at at 131, with a further 273 people injured, a senior official from NDMA told AFP. Some 556 villages have been affected.
“The rains killed at least 63 people and injured 105 others in Pakistan-administered Kashmir,” the official added.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured the region Sunday and met top relief officials, describing the situation as “a national-level disaster”.
In a letter to his counterpart Nawaz Sharif, Modi extended his “deepest sympathies” to flood-hit Pakistanis and offered to provide relief assistance.
“Our resources are at your disposal whenever you need them,” Modi said in the letter released by his office.