Heavy rain brings back anxious memories of 2014 flood

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On a chilly Thursday, Kashmiris found that the morning had brought waterlogged homes, streets and alleys, and a Jhelum river filled to the brim after three days of incessant and heavy rain. Many people had been up all night, watching for the water to reach their porches and making arrangements to evacuate in a hurry. It was a traumatic reminder, especially for those living near the river bank, of the devastating floods of September 2014 that had left over 300 people dead and displaced thousands.

As a flood alert was sounded, panicked resident started moving to the upper floors of their homes or to areas with a lower chance of flooding. Fortunately, the rain let up on Friday and the weather cleared. The immediate danger was over. But the fear remains even now.

As a flood alert was sounded, panicked resident started moving to the upper floors of their homes or to areas with a lower chance of flooding. Fortunately, the rain let up on Friday and the weather cleared. The immediate danger was over. But the fear remains even now.

Ever since winter gave way to spring, residents of Kashmir have been plagued by bad weather, rain and untimely snow. This led to a flood-like situation on Thursday.

On the Jhelum embankment near Lal Chowk in Srinagar, scores of people stood watching the swollen river, taking photographs and circulating them along with weather updates on WhatsApp groups and other social media platforms. An app gave out hourly updates of water levels issued by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department.

On Thursday night, the Jhelum touched its highest gauge level of 21.7 feet at the Sangam in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district and of 19.1 feet at Ram Munshi Bagh in Srinagar. In 2014, the river had crossed 33 feet at the Sangam and 23 feet at Ram Munshi Bagh.

Panic and fear

The rising waters caused panic all around. In the outskirts of Srinagar, young men carrying children could be seen leaving their homes as the water came up to their knees. Shopkeepers in the Lal Chowk area rushed around trying to save as much of their goods as possible.

A mother in Srinagar’s Peer Bagh shifted her two children to the non-flood-prone Zakura area 15 km away, and came back to shift her belongings to the upper floors, praying silently all the time. She said she had stayed up all night watching the front porch for signs of approaching water.

On the Jhelum, too, houseboat owners spent a sleepless night adjusting their moorings as the water levels rose. A rise of six inches meant tightening the ropes to prevent the boats from being swept away, they said.

The rain continued to fall through the day, with a brief interval in the late evening. And as night fell, there was panic again as the houseboats rose to within a few feet of the level of the embankment.

Muneer Bhat, a resident of Srinagar’s Tulsi Bagh, had also been watching the water levels rise but it wasn’t until a panicked call from a friend at 11 am that he began to worry. “Flood alert has been issued,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

In the next few hours, Bhat had cleared out most of the ground floor of his house. Cans of oil, bags of rice and other essentials had been placed haphazardly in a corner of a higher floor of the building. “A lot had been spent on renovations after the 2014 flood,” he said.

As the flood alert was sounded, the city’s municipal commissioner told the Valley’s sole private FM radio station that the drainage systems were burdened with double the amount of water they could drain. The severity of the waterlogging was evident when vehicles fell into dug-up patches of the road near Jehangir Chowk.

The Jammu and Kashmir government, on its part, announced that all schools and colleges in Kashmir would remain closed until Monday.

However, Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department, said that while people needed to remain vigilant, a “flood of the magnitude of 2014 won’t arise”. The weather will improve, he told a news gathering agency.

Relief, but deaths too

Proving his forecast right, the sun came out on Friday. But it brought reports of the death of a passenger of a taxi that had skidded off the road and fallen into the Jhelum in Anantnag the day before. The driver is still missing. The bodies of three soldiers trapped in an avalanche in the Batalik sector in Ladakh were also recovered. The region had witnessed multiple avalanches on Thursday.

In Srinagar, the water levels were slowly receding but the fear of flooding and more rain remained. Kashmiris have lived with this fear for a few years now. It surfaced in March-April 2015 too, when the Valley received heavy rainfall and the Jhelum had risen dangerously.

Residents said the slow pace of dredging and encroachments on the river banks were to blame for rivers and tributaries breaching their banks.

The Article First Appeared In Scroll.In

 

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