Army struggles to drop relief, as people clamour for rescue

  • Sukhdeep Kaur, Hindustan Times, Srinagar/Ganderbal (on board Mi-17)
  • Updated: Sep 11, 2014 11:11 IST

Between relief and rescue, people want rescue. After sorties in air force choppers, one finds that people can’t wait for the army to drop supplies, as they first jostle to get into the helicopter. Sorties could not land, so relief is being hampered.

At 9am at the air force base camp adjoining the Srinagar airport, an Mi-17 V5 helicopter loaded supplies for one of the biggest rescue camps at Nehru helipad and another went along with rations for the governor’s residence nearby. Neither could drop the supplies, as the crowds turned unruly.

On Tuesday, angry crowds at the helipad had pelted another rescue helicopter with stones, forcing it to end its sorties for that day. In downtown Srinagar, angry people stranded on rooftops had shown the army copters red flags and stoned the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) boats. An NDRF personnel was injured when some people tried to take away his raft.

As floodwater in the Kashmir valley is receding, anger and despair seem to be rising. The local police and the army had been sent early in the day to control the unruly crowd, but the first sortie to the Nehru helipad on Wednesday had to once again take off from there without dropping any food or airlifting people, as they jostled to get in.

A middle-aged Sikh manages to sneak in before its doors are shut. Once inside, he cries with folded hands to be taken to his family in Jammu. He is brought to the base camp, where hundreds are waiting to board the airplanes to reach home. Outside the camp gates, slippers of migrant workers are stewn on the roads, as a sign of the melee that breaks out each time the camp opens its gates to let in a few.

Many workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar alleged that they were not being sent home on priority, since they were considered “more tolerant to harsh conditions”. Meanwhile, at the Nehru helipad, rescue efforts resume only in the afternoon, when the army starts airlifting in batches from a different site on the golf course.

At Ganderbal in the outskirts of Srinagar, the narrow pavement of the main highway is where one can hope to get food or water. As the helicopter brings rations, milk powder, packaged drinking water, bananas and food packed at a local gurdwara to the long queue of waiting hundreds, the two ministers of the Omar Abdullah government aboard the chopper lend a helping hand, as the camera of a local television channel is rolling.

Those with whatever little land remains stand in their flooded fields, waving frantically at the helicopter as it descends several feet down to distribute what remains in cargo hold.

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