Five days of incessant rains in Indian-administered Kashmir have left at least 175 people dead in the region’s worst flooding in more than five decades.
Officials said on Sunday that flood waters had submerged at least 450 villages and triggered landslides across the valley and in neighbouring Pakistan, where more than 160 people have lost their lives and thousands others have been displaced from their homes.
Rescuers in both Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir were using helicopters and boats to try to reach tens of thousands of people stranded in their homes as floodwaters rose and submerged many villages. More than 2,000 villages have been affected by the floodwaters in Kashmir, officials said.
Rescue efforts in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, were being hampered by a shortage of rescue boats and fast-moving floodwaters that submerged large parts of the city.
To assist the rescue efforts, Kashmiris took to social media sites, like Facebook,Twitter and blogging platforms just paste it to log a list of victims still needing medical help or rescue services.
Disruptions of telecommunications in Kashmir, with mobile and Internet services mostly down on Sunday, set off panic among Kashmiris in the diaspora as the valley descended into a communication vacuum.
With the airport out of service and the main highway leading out of the valley closed, the area was only accessible by helicopter.
Though the rains had stopped on Sunday, officials said the spreading water from the overflowing Jhelum River was moving too fast to allow boats to reach many people stranded in Srinagar.
By evening, several boats had been deployed to start rescue efforts, said Omar Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir state’s top elected official.
In many Srinagar’s neighbourhoods, the water was about 4 metres deep, submerging entire houses.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surveyed the flood-hit areas from a helicopter on Sunday and promised the state federal help to deal with the devastation, which he described as a “national level disaster”.
In Punjab in Pakistan, a senior official in the province’s rescue agency said 103 people had died in the province.
He added that around 5,000 people had been rescued since Thursday, but that three soldiers had gone missing during the rescue operation.
Ahmed Kamal, spokesman for Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, said 48 people had died in the Pakistani-administered Kashmir and 11 in the adjacent Gilgit Baltistan area since the flooding began.
“Army helicopters and navy boats are rescuing people and taking them to safety from submerged villages in Punjab and affected areas of Kashmir,” Kamal said.
He said that the flooding had hit 286 villages in Punjab, as several rivers breached their banks, and that the crisis was rapidly becoming a “national emergency”.
More than 4,000 homes across Pakistan have collapsed, rendering thousands of people homeless.
Pakistan’s armed forces and civilian rescuers have mounted a massive operation using helicopters and boats to get villagers to safety. Kamal said 95 relief camps had been set up for those displaced by the flooding.
Pakistan and India suffer widespread flooding each year during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September. In 2010, flash floods killed 1,700 people in Pakistan.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed in its entirety by both countries.