, SRINAGAR, September 9- Bewildered families, nursing children and clutching meagre belongings, packed Tuesday into makeshift relief centres after fleeing floods in India and Pakistan that have now claimed more than 400 lives.
The army was airlifting boats to the worst hit areas of Indian Kashmir, where whole villages have been submerged and hundreds of thousands are stranded in the region’s worst flooding for half a century.
“The situation in Kashmir Valley is still very grim, it is quite critical,” said Rajesh Kumar, police Inspector General of the Jammu region in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.
“I don’t know how many exactly, but there are many stuck in neck deep water and need help as soon as possible,” he told AFP.
“The death toll as of now is around 200 people,” he added.
In neighbouring Pakistan the number of dead stood at 206, with most killed in Punjab province, officials have said.
Thousands of troops, police and other emergency personnel have been deployed in both countries to deliver drinking water, blankets and other relief supplies using helicopters and boats.
In India, rescue efforts were focused on flooded south Kashmir and the Himalayan region’s main city of Srinagar, with some 400,000 people still stranded, the Press Trust of India news agency (PTI) quoted local officials as saying.
At a wedding hall on Srinagar’s outskirts, some 400 people were sitting or lying on the floor in small groups, taking stock of their lives after floodwaters submerged their homes.
“Everything happened so fast. The waters came rushing and we didn’t have time to pack anything,” Ruqsat Banu said as she comforted her elderly in laws.
“The (rescue workers) were prioritising people, they were taking the women and the children but the men were left behind,” said Banu, who had to leave without her husband.
“We don’t know if he is all right, what has happened to him,” Banu told AFP. “We lost everything.”
Banu, who is in her mid twenties, arrived on Sunday at the hall in Sanatnagar south of Srinagar where residents have been arriving since days of heavy monsoon rains flooded the Jhelum river.
Locals who run the Sir Mohammed Iqbal hall, one of the few refuges with electricity, were busy serving food to victims, while others were stockpiling bandages and basic medicines in a corner.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime. It’s unprecedented, everything is underwater,” 70-year-old S. Nabi said as he watched the chaos around him.
– Rescue boats airlifted –
As the weather eased in the region, the military has stepped up its rescue efforts, with 32,000 people evacuated so far, the army said.
“We are facing a shortage of boats for rescuing people from inundated areas,” state government official Rohit Kansal told PTI, adding that 100 boats being airlifted from Delhi would arrive shortly.
Some water and electricity lines have been restored in areas that were less severely affected, police Inspector General Kumar said.
“The main highway is still cut off from everything. But thankfully, many other road networks have been restored to a large extent.”
Closer to central Srinagar, past rows and rows of flooded houses and other buildings, Abdul Rashid, his wife and two daughters, gathered with others on a bridge to wait for help.
The Rashid family was rescued by army helicopter from the roof terrace of their neighbour’s home where they had scrambled in the middle of Sunday night.
“We got there (to the terrace) just in the nick of time. We watched as our house just collapsed in the waters,” said Rashid, whose family has not eaten since yesterday.