Six people died and 10 were missing following landslides and flash floods in Jammu and Kashmir, triggered by incessant rains over two days as authorities struggled to evacuate people from low-lying areas in the Valley.
Rescuers cut through mountains of mud to reach the trapped victims in central Kashmir’s Budgam district as the Jhelum flowed above the danger mark, a reminder of last September when the worst flooding in a century left over 300 dead and millions displaced.
Police recovered six bodies from two collapsed homes and 10 people were still trapped or missing, Javeed Geelani, inspector general of Kashmir, said but added no causalities or injuries were reported from any other regions.
Promising all help, the central government granted Rs 200 crore as immediate relief as Prime Minister Narendra Modi rushed minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to Kashmir for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation and coordinate with state authorities with regard to the requirements.
While making the announcement about Centre's grant, Chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said in the assembly that the state government has sanctioned Rs 25 crore for Kashmir and Rs 10 crore for Jammu region which also has been affected by flood.
Meanwhile, around 650,000 residents in Srinagar, that was left in a shambles last year, prepared themselves with sandbags, boats and relief material as several offices and homes were inundated.
Memories of vast lakes of water covering the city made people mobilise themselves into groups both on the streets and on social media. "We shifted patients in boats from Bemina. Mosques will regulate boats and rescue operation for better coordination," said Altaf Ahmad, a resident.
The mountain state was slowly getting back on its feet when the deluge struck over the weekend, sending rivers across the region in a spate.
Residents said two houses in Budgam district collapsed early Monday morning, leaving 15-16 people trapped. They complained the authorities had done nothing for the upkeep of flood defences and embankments built after September’s floods.
"The area has turned into a swamp, we need help," said resident Mushtaq Ahmad.
Authorities, however, said the Jhelum hadn’t breached its banks and water levels had started receding in many areas as the weather improved.
CM Sayeed said there was no need to panic as water levels had receded in the last few hours.
"Weather will improve and there will be less rainfall in the next 24 to 48 hours. Another weather system is expected on April 1 but that is also not going to be strong," said Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department in Srinagar.
CM Sayeed spoke to home minister Rajnath Singh as the Centre sent eight National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams to Kashmir.
"The embankments made after last year’s floods are safe, except for a few areas where water seeped into residential areas," said state public works minister Altaf Bhukari said.
According to a government spokesperson, Jhelum crossed the danger marks of 18 feet and 22 feet at Ram Munshibagh and Sangam respectively at 7am due to incessant rains overnight.
"The authorities have declared that Kashmir has been flooded and people living in low lying areas, especially in and around Jhelum have been advised to move to safer areas," an official statement read.
"We have advised people from areas like Lasjan, Natipora, Mahjoor Nagar to move to safer places. Boats, sandbags and a 24-hour vigil on bunds have been made available all across the valley," said Bhukari.
Around 100 personnel of National Disaster Response Force, NDRF, are also in the Valley to help in relief and rescue work.
Authorities, however, asked people not to panic.
"The embankments which were made post 2014 floods are so far safe. Except for a few areas water has not seeped into residential areas," Bhukari said.
"Although the situation right now is under control and water in Jhelum is receding but we don't want to take chances," he said.
CM Sayeed on Monday took stock of flood-like situation in the state and promised to provide compensation to non-insured people in flood-affected areas.
Sayeed said the government was focusing on connectivity and a detailed evacuation plan with boats deployed in all parts of the Valley. Three joint control rooms in south, north and central Kashmir were set up and relief camps provided with adequate ration, water, fuel, blankets and other necessary items.
Experts said the PDP-BJP government had been more prompt in organising rescue efforts than the National Conference regime last year –- widely criticised for being sluggish –- but alleged the parties had focussed on politics while cobbling together a coalition for two months instead of laying stress on flood infrastructure.
"Some de-silting was done here and there but never on the scale it deserved. Unfortunately, this government got embroiled in frivolous politics," said Shakil Romshoo of Kashmir University.
All schools in the Valley have been closed for two days after heavy rains inundated large areas.
"The government decided to shut all schools up to class 12 for today (Monday) and tomorrow (Tuesday) in the wake of a flood alert," Showkat Beigh, Kashmir's education director, said.
Beigh said the government had first announced closure of schools up to class eight only, but the decision to extend it to high and higher secondary schools was taken this morning after assessing the situation.
He said all Board of School Examinations scheduled for Monday and Tuesday have also been postponed.
University of Kashmir has also postponed its annual examinations for two days.
(With inputs from Tarun Upadhyay in Jammu and agencies)