At least 40 people were feared dead after an overcrowded bus carrying wedding guests was swept away on Thursday by a flooded stream in Jammu and Kashmir, where authorities sounded disaster alert after two days of incessant rains caused the worst flooding in the past two decades.
Jammu divisional commissioner Shantmanu said the bus carrying more than 50 people, including the bride and bridegroom, was washed away in a flash flood in Lam area in Rajouri district, about 130-km from Jammu city.
Attempts by rescuers to search the bus were hampered by rains and strong currents, with senior superintendent of police Mubashir Latifi saying the death toll could be 40. Six passengers were rescued when the bus got stuck in the stream.
Fifteen people, including a BSF jawan, were killed in separate rain-related incidents elsewhere in the state during the past two days, taking the death toll to 55.
The authorities closed schools and colleges in the state amid Met department’s grim warning that heavy rains were likely to continue for another two days.
The water level in Kashmir valley’s main river, the Jhelum, was rising dangerously with each passing hour, leaving about 50 villages and parts of the capital Srinagar inundated.
"People living along the banks of river Jehlum and embankments of different water bodies are asked to move to safer areas immediately in view of the flood situation," said Kashmir divisional commissioner Rohit Kansal.
Imran Yousuf, who lives in low-lying Padshahi Bagh area, said, "We have shifted all our belongings to the second floor of our house and we are waiting for the water to recede, otherwise we will have to leave the area."
People in about 40 affected villages of the worst-hit south Kashmir have moved to safer locations. The government has sent 50 boats to these areas to evacuate people, while another 100 boats are being procured for the purpose, a government spokesman said.
"The air force has also been asked to remain on standby," the spokesman said.
In Srinagar, several residential colonies on the banks of the Jhelum and a flood channel were inundated with flood waters. Most of these colonies have been constructed in low-lying, paddy fields and marshy lands, choking natural water channels in the process.
All schools and colleges have been closed in the valley, and the government also postponed Haj flights for three days because the pilgrims could not reach Srinagar from other districts.