Heavy flooding snapped telecommunication links across Kashmir on Monday as thousands huddled on rooftops following the state’s deadliest floods in about 60 years that have swamped hundreds of villages and killed about 200 people in the past week.
Army and air force troops worked through the night with naval marine commandos joining efforts to rescue people stranded across the state as homes, military bases and hospitals in Srinagar were inundated after the Jhelum river broke its banks. Over 23,000 people have been rescued, including 1,400 army personnel and their families caught in floodwaters at Srinagar’s Badami Bagh cantonment.
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“The Indian Army will not move back to the barracks till the last man is brought to safety,” said General Dalbir Singh, chief of the army staff.
Video footage shot from army helicopters showed entire villages completely under water while residents were seen waving from rooftops as vehicles and livestock were washed away by the floodwaters.
State-run BSNL launched an operation with the army and air force to re-establish mobile services through satellite network, though officials said it would take more than a week for full restoration.
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The army headquarters in Delhi used social media to help send messages from anxious people across the country seeking to know about their missing relatives. It forwarded all distress messages received on its website, Facebook page and Twitter handle to a WhatsApp group, that included senior Northern Command officers
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescuers received over 450 distress messages through WhatsApp and other social media platforms apart from SMSes about people stranded in submerged areas.
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"We are not able to communicate with our teams sent on the ground in flood-ravaged areas. We were able to rescue some people after getting these messages. We have asked our commanders and control rooms to streamline these messages," said NDRF chief OP Singh said.
Rescue efforts were hampered by rains in Srinagar on Monday. With large swathes of the state cut off, the army distributed 23,000 litres of drinking water, 85 tonnes of medicines and 600 kg of biscuits in flood-affected areas.
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The state government asked all schools to remain closed until September 12 while the pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi resumed after being suspended for four days.
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Environmentalists say massive deforestation of Kashmir’s mountains is responsible for the heavy floods in the state. Fast-running streams charged down the mountains because they have been stripped off their green cover.
(With agency inputs)