Floods hit a million in Pakistan, anger rises in Indian Kashmir

Nasir Jaffry
1 / 6

An Indian Kashmiri man crosses over flood waters with the use of a rope in Srinagar, Kasmir province on September 9, 2014

An Indian Kashmiri man crosses over flood waters with the use of a rope in Srinagar, Kasmir province on September 9, 2014 (AFP Photo/Punit Paranjpe)

Deadly flooding has affected more than one million people in Pakistan, officials said Wednesday, as anger mounted in Indian Kashmir over the slow pace of rescue operations for hundreds of thousands left stranded.

The floods and landslides from days of heavy rains have now claimed more than 450 lives in Pakistan and India, where emergency workers scrambled to rescue residents left marooned on rooftops and clinging to trees.

"At least 1,091,807 people were affected in Punjab province and 31,800 in Pakistan-administered Kashmir," a senior official at Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) told AFP.

Authorities blew up a strategic embankment to divert raging floodwaters that began in the Himalayan territory of Kashmir last week from a city in the populous Punjab province.

Khawaja Asif, minister for defence, water and power, said the drastic move was taken "to avert catastrophe" in Jhang, home to hundreds of thousands of people.

With many parts of Indian Kashmir's main city Srinagar still cut off days after the floods hit, residents and rescuers alike criticised the state government's response, with one military officer saying officials were nowhere to be seen.

On Wednesday it emerged that one rescue officer had been wounded in an attack by furious residents earlier in the week as anger boiled over.

While thousands of soldiers and other emergency workers stepped up operations in India's Kashmir Valley as waters started to recede, the region's top leader said he could understand people's anger.

"We have really been overwhelmed. We have been overwhelmed by the scale of the problem," Jammu and Kashmir state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told the CNN-IBN network.

"Our ability to supply people has been hampered by the fact that we have been unable to reach those areas. There are large parts of the city where even boats have not been able to reach.

"I understand their anger and I don't grudge them on that anger. They have gone through an extremely difficult time," he said of the rising frustrations.

More than 200 people have died in the region's worst floods in more than half a century.

In neighbouring Pakistan, another 256 people have been killed, with Punjab the worst-hit area and floods threatening to inundate more areas downriver.

The more than one million people affected include both those stranded at home and those who fled after the floods hit.

- 'Where is my mama?' -

On a stretch of road in India's Srinagar, hundreds of exhausted residents, some clutching children, others plastic bags of belongings, walked to an army relief camp on higher ground, searching for food and water.

Salim Nabi, his wife and two sons, have been camped on the road for days, with only a plastic sheet for shelter, waiting for the waters to recede further so they can check on their flooded house.

"The situation is absolutely pathetic. We are wondering why exactly we voted for a state government that does nothing for us," Nabi told AFP.

Abdul Ahad Tantray has been caring for his three-year-old granddaughter for days, after his daughter handed her over to a neighbour but then became trapped herself in her house.

With no news of her fate and the waters still too high to reach the house himself, Tantray said he was helpless.

"She has been crying for her mother, 'Where is my mama?'," he said.

Indian army commander Dinesh Singh said rescue efforts were being hamstrung by communication failures.

With some phone networks still knocked out, Indians took to social media to check on the fate of friends and relatives, and alert authorities to victims' locations.

"Just heard from someone at residences near Govt Quarters Jawaharnagar. No rescue boats, no food for 2 days. Pls send help," one person tweeted.

"Hey Raheel I just got the news about ur family... she conveyed the message that ur family is ok," another posted on Facebook.

Rescue chief Singh said a lack of government officials on the ground was also hampering the military's rescue and relief efforts.

"The biggest problem is there that is no presence from the state government," Singh told AFP. "We need them to organise the crowds and help with coordination on where to send the boats."

More than 400,000 people remain stranded, officials say. As well as searching for those still trapped, soldiers and emergency workers have been distributing tonnes of water, biscuits, medical and other relief.

Some 79 planes and helicopters have been deployed along with several hundred boats, and more than 77,000 people have been rescued so far, the defence ministry said.