At least fifty people were feared dead on Thursday after a bus carrying a wedding party was washed away by flash floods in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district, even as 20 other flood-related deaths were reported from other parts of the state.
Three days of heavy rain left rivers in the state flowing above the danger mark and triggered landslides in several places, forcing key highway stretches to close for traffic. More rainfall is likely for at least the next two days, the meteorological department warned.
On Thursday afternoon, the bus -- filled to its capacity of 52, including the bride and groom – was on its way to Lam, around 120 km from Jammu city, when it was hit by surging waters of the Gambhir river. Only three people survived the accident.
“Rescue operations were severely hampered by heavy rainfall,” said Rajouri senior superintendent of police Mubassir Latifi.
The state capital of Srinagar also braced for major floods with the Jhelum, Kashmir’s main river, flowing more than seven feet above the danger mark.
Vast swathes of Srinagar remain inundated, with water levels just a few feet shy of breaching Lal Chowk, the city’s commercial hub.
With water level rising by the hour, locals complained of administrative apathy. “Our colony has been under water since 2am Thursday but no help arrived till morning. Only two boats, with a capacity of four, were made available by the administration, even though hundreds of people are stranded,” said Mushtaq Ali, a resident of Hamdania colony in Srinagar’s Bemina area.
Torrential rainfall forced the Vaishno Devi pilgrimage to be suspended on Thursday after three people were injured in landslides triggered by heavy showers.
The 300-km-long Jammu-Srinagar national highway also closed for traffic after two landslides in the Ramban district left hundreds of vehicles stranded.
South Kashmir’s Anantnag and Kulgam districts are among the worst hit, with at least 50 villages under water and more than 1500 people marooned. On Thursday, the government dispatched 50 boats to the region that evacuated hundreds of people trapped by floodwater. A number of bridges have also collapsed in south and central Kashmir, cutting off several hamlets.
“People living along the banks of Jhelum and embankments of other water bodies have been asked to move to safer areas immediately,” said Kashmir divisional commissioner.
Amid complaints that the administration was slow in responding to the crisis, chief minister Omar Abdullah conducted an aerial survey of flood-affected districts on Thursday, directing officials to take all necessary measures to safeguard lives of people affected by the deluge.
The government has asked the air force to keep a rescue plan ready, and around 500,000 sand bags have been kept available, said a spokesperson. The cabinet has also approved Rs. 10 crore for rescue work.
All schools and colleges are closed in the state till Sunday. Kashmir University has postponed its examination.
Read: 50 villages marooned in Srinagar after flood warning