Srinagar: "I had no government as the seat of the establishment was wiped out by the worst floods in over a century," Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said today, recalling the nightmare of the disaster that hit his state six days back.
His own residence has no power supply, his cell phones have no connectivity but Omar is working out of a guest house where he has created a make-shift mini secretariat to direct rescue and relief operations.
The state's Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather was located today in the Taxation Office where he was holed up for five days, unable to come out because of surging floods and cut off from the world because of the communication black out.
"My capital city (Srinagar) was taken out. My government was totally inundated. I had no government for the first 36 hours. I resumed operations of the government thereafter with six officers in a room," Omar told PTI here.
Recalling the devastation, Omar said, "The establishment was wiped out. The state Assembly building, the High Court, the police headquarters and hospitals are all under water.
He was unable to contact most of his ministers in the first three days and still does not know the whereabouts of one or two ministers. Nor has he been able to contact the vast majority of legislators.
His close aide and the Kashmir provincial President of the ruling National Conference Nasir Wani has moved into the chief minister's residence but is unable to meet his family which is holed up in a nearby hotel surrounded by water.
Dismissing allegations that priority was given to helping VIPs, the Chief Minister said that his own uncles had been trapped in their residences as had a large number of other so-called important people.
Omar pointed out that in other natural disasters in the country in recent memory state capitals had not been hit whether it was the earthquake in Gujarat, flash floods in Uttarakhand or the cyclone in Odisha.
"It was unbelievable and unthinkable. Initially everyone was cut off from everyone else--police, top officials, ministers, legislators, doctors. So many of them were trapped whereever they were, unable to move out," he said.
Speaking of the gradual improvement in the situation with the waters of river Jhelum receding, the Chief Minister said cell phone services have begun functioning in certain areas. Relief and rehabilitation work was picking up.
Acknowledging the anger of the people devastated by the deluge, Omar said they were desperate because of lack of food and total breakdown of communication. The armed forces and the state machinery had done whatever they could in the grim circumstances.
However, he said some lumpen elements were trying to cash in on the situation by instigating people to pelt stones on those who had come for relief and rescue.
"These elements want to fish in troubled waters, to instigate trouble and to sabotage relief. Only well-fed people can indulge in stone throwing. Those who have not eaten for three or four days will only look for help," he said.
Omar said the armed forces deserved credit for their massive rescue and relief efforts. "I am not in the game of credit."
He said his highest priority was to see that adequate relief material reached the people.
Responding to criticism that warnings given years ago about the possibility of catastrophic floods had been ignored, the Chief Minister said the state government had sent a proposal to the Government of India about a flood protection plan to evacuate 1.6 lakh cu secs of water which was going back and forth between the two governments.
The Central government had asked the state whether they could prove that collection of so much water was possible. Now the nature has shown it, he added.
Asked about the extent of damage caused by the floods, he said it was too early because nobody can guess the full impact of the devastation.
The Chief Minister said the government has worked out an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 75,000 to those whose houses have been fully damaged and less in cases where the damage has been partial.
Of course, these are initial estimates and further details would be worked out in consultation with the Centre, he said.
Omar said that the entire state machinery collapsed following the floods.
"There is no question of government being caught off-guard, for the initial few days the government did not exist," he said.
The Chief Minister said, "In the recorded history this happened for the first time that the capital city was affected. As the rain did not stop the entire Srinagar city got inundated."
He accepted that no contingencies were in place to deal with a natural disaster of such a 'huge magnitude'.
Omar said that the priority of the government was first to evacuate the stranded people and take them to safety. "Our priority was to save as many people as we can," adding that various rescue agencies did a commendable job in saving the human lives.
Without blaming anyone the Chief Minister said that there were some "disruptive elements" that were trying to stop the relief material from reaching the affected people.
"These disruptive elements want to play politics with the miseries of the affected people and stop relief from reaching them. Our appeal to them is to let the relief and rescue work go on without any hindrance," he said.
The chief minister said that people should not pay any heed to the rumours and rely on official sources for information.
The Chief Minister said that most of the rescue work has been done and it was the time to start the rehabilitation work for which the Jammu and Kashmir government was in need of the assistance from across the country.
"We are thankful to the central government and the government of various other states as they have offered assistance in the relief and rescue work," Omar said.
"The people of Kashmir are mainly concerned about the future of their children, I want to assure them that we will make adequate changes in the academic calendar" Omar said.
He also said that the people must not get worried about their bank deposits with the Jammu and Kashmir bank, as the same was safe with the bank.
"I want to tell them that their deposit are safe as all the bank records are intact" Omar said.