Jammu/Srinagar: The flood situation in Jammu and Kashmir continued to worsen on Saturday with the death toll mounting to 160 while rescuers struggled to evacuate thousands of people to safety as major rivers and streams were in spate due to incessant rains.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare Jammu and Kashmir floods a “national calamity”.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on phone and demanded immediate steps so that the stranded people are shifted to safer places more efficiently and effectively.
He demanded that the floods be declared a national calamity.
The Prime Minister assured all possible help to the state in this hour of crisis after Azad, a former J&K chief minister, spoke to him from Srinagar and sought his personal attention in view of the "very grave and grim situation" prevailing in the entire state.
Azad requested the Prime Minister to immediately place funds at the disposal of the state government so that the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations are carried out in an effective and co-ordinated manner.
Home Minister takes stock of flood situation
Earlier in the day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar and held a meeting with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to take stock of the flood situation soon, He, however, could not undertake an aerial survey due to inclement weather.
Omar himself drove Rajnath Singh, who was accompanied by Minister of State in PMO Jitendra Singh, through the Srinagar city which was experiencing heavy rainfall.
"The floods have caused a lot of damage. If this is the condition of city, what will be the situation in rural areas. I was told that this has happened after 50-60 years," said Rajnath Singh, who assured the Chief Minister that the Centre stands firmly behind the state government at this crucial hour.
He said that an inter-ministerial team will be sent to assess the damage in the state and that J&K can use Rs 1,100 crore of State Disaster Relief Fund to deal with the calamity.
"The helicopter could not take off because of bad weather. So I went with the Chief Minister around the city," Singh, who arrived this morning, said before heading for Jammu.
"No politics should be played at this hour. After the water recedes, an inter-ministerial team will be sent to assess the damage. The PM has given Rs two lakh to the kin of every person killed in the floods. I have told the state government to utilise Rs 1,100 crore of State Disaster Relief Fund which has 90 percent of grant from the Centre," Singh told reporters here.
Singh also asked the state government to send a memorandum on the damage incurred during the floods, once the situation eases.
As soon as Singh arrived in Srinagar, he went straight into a meeting with the Chief Minister in the technical area of the airport where both discussed steps to meet the situation arising out of the worst floods in the state in six decade that have claimed 100 lives so far.
He was accompanied by Minister of State in PMO Jitendra Singh
Death toll climbs to 160; 2 Army jawans still trapped
The toll in the Jammu and Kashmir floods has risen to 160 as the floods, the worst the state has seen in 60 years, affected a staggering 2,500 villages, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said as he assured help to deal with the grim situation.
Rajnath Singh told the media at the Jammu airport that "160 people have lost their lives in these floods".
"Floods of this magnitude have hit Jammu and Kashmir after 60 years."
He said 2,500 villages were affected, out of which 450 were completely submerged.
In Jammu region, 11 more deaths were reported today, including seven in two house collapse incidents in Udhampur. Four more bodies were recovered from Thursday's bus mishap in which 63 members of marriage party were washed away in Rajouri district, SSP Rajouri Mubasir Latiffe said, adding a total of 29 bodies have been recovered so far.
At least nine Army personnel including an officer were today trapped in strong water current as their boat capsized during a rescue operation in Pulwama district, where River Jhelum has breached embankment prompting authorities to issue a red alert for people living in low lying areas of south Srinagar. Seven Army personnel were later rescued from flood waters in Pulwama district but two soldiers are still trapped.
"We have launched an operation to rescue the missing personnel," an Army official said, adding, "Despite facing dangers to personal safety, the Army personnel are out there to provide relief to the civilian population of Kashmir."
With today's deaths, a total of 100 people have died in the state hit by floods and land slides due to incessant rains since Wednesday. While 89 people have been killed in Jammu, 11 have died in the Kashmir Valley so far.
In Jammu, authorities have closed four bridges connecting two parts of city after they suffered damage due to River Tawi flowing above the danger mark.
"The situation is very bad. It is becoming more critical as rains have not stopped making the rescue and relief operation difficult," officials said.
As many as 7,000 people were rescued in various areas in Jammu by teams of Army and IAF teams till now with 85 columns (75-100 personnel each) of troops and Air Force helicopters taking part in the operations in the state.
Several rivers have been flowing above the danger mark and most parts of south Kashmir, including Pulwama, Anantnag and Kulgam districts have been submerged.
"Operation Megh Rahat in Jammu and Operation Sahayata launched by Army in Jammu and Kashmir regions has moved on to next phase where Army plans extensive deployment in support of flood relief," Defence Spokesman Col SD Goswami said.
The deployment of helicopters, special divers, heavy engineering machinery and more personnel on ground will be the focus of army to assist locals in critical situations, that may arise due to heavy rains that are lashing the region, the spokesman said.
Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Rohit Kansal told a news agency that Jhelum had breached the embankment at Kandizal in Kakapora area of Pulwama district.
"We have issued an alert for low lying areas of Srinagar city which are likely to get affected," he said.
Kansal said the areas likely to be affected by the breach include Lasjan, Mehjoor Nagar, Bud Shah Nagar and the strip along the vital Airport road.
"One unit of NDRF has been moved into these areas for carrying out evacuation and rescue operations wherever needed," he added.
Kansal appealed to people living in these areas to move out to safer places immediately.
Heavy and incessant rains since Wednesday have have disrupted normal life as large areas remain inundated.
The River Jhelum is flowing several feet above the danger mark at Sangam in Anantnag district of south Kashmir, which has been inundated.
The threat of flood in other areas of the Valley including central Kashmir's Ganderbal district and three north Kashmir districts has also increased as all rivers and rivulets are flowing above the danger mark.
Authorities today sounded a red alert asking people living close to River Sindh to move to safer places following cloudbursts and flash floods in the higher reaches triggered by the continuous rains for the past five days.
River Sindh flows through most part of Ganderbal district and people in many areas live near the banks of the river.
"We have sounded a red alert in the district and asked people living near River Sindh to move to safer places as the water level in the river is increasing fast," Deputy Commissioner, Ganderbal, Sarmad Hafeez told a news agency.
He said cloudbursts in some areas in the upper reaches of the district during the night have resulted in flash floods and increase in the water levels of the river.
Rajouri district in Jammu region is the worst hit in terms of casualties.
Thousands of people have been rescued and evacuated to safety.
"We have set up temporary camps at several places for the displaced persons," the Army officer added.
(With PTI inputs)