Flash floods caused by cloudburst devastated the old Leh town and its adjoining villages in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir late night on August 5, killing at least 166 persons. Rescuers are still looking for more than 200 persons missing since the disaster struck. A massive rescue operation jointly launched by the Indian army and the civil administration, aided by local and foreign volunteers is on to clear roads, government establishments and houses of rubble and slush that flash floods brought down the mountain slopes like a river of mud.
"Around 12:10 am, when most people were asleep, there was a huge cloudburst. For 30 minutes, it rained heavily. This led to flash floods in different parts of the city," Tashi Phunsog, a resident of Thksya village said.
Many houses in the area are made of mud and stone and could not resist the pressure of water flow, said Phunsog, adding that the villages of Skampari, Lieu, Shaksha, old Leh, bus stand and Chogmulsar were the worst affected. "The bodies initially recovered were kept at Polo ground. Apart from civil administration and army, locals have joined in the rescue efforts." They include Buddhists and Muslims working together.
The death toll, authorities said, was likely to rise as rescue operators continue to search for the missing under the debris of damaged buildings and collapsed houses. Around 500 people are reported to be missing, while another 500 injured have been hospitalized.
"The civil administration, Army and Police have launched a massive relief operation in Leh and adjacent villages that were hit by the flash floods," J&K's Tourism Minister, Nawang Regzin Jora said. "I have never seen such a big tragedy hitting Ladakh. There is every possibility that the death toll may further go up as still many people are missing from the old Leh and its adjacent villages," he said.
Flash floods in the region will add to people's woes in Pakistan which is already battling with floods caused by incessant rains.
Rescue operations in both countries are being hindered by continuing rainfall. The two highways connecting Kargil and Manali with Leh town are closed at different places due to landslides.
Indian Home Minister of India, P Chidambaram informed reporters outside parliament that some 6000 personnel are involved in rescue and relief operations. The Prime Minister has announced a relief package for all affected.
The flash floods swept across Leh, demolishing residential houses, armed forces camps and other government installations. The airport was completely swamped leading to cancellation of all flights between New Delhi and Leh. Treatment of the injured was reportedly affected by shortage of doctors trained to perform surgeries as well as damage to the hospital building.
The Indus basin has received unexpectedly high levels of rainfall, especially in Kashmir and many areas of Pakistan this year causing floods, like this one in Ladakh. Professor Shakeel Ramshoo, Head of the Geology and Geophysics Department at Kashmir University says that cloudbursts are a routine matter in the Ladakh region. "This is the first time floods have struck a populated area. It's also the first time in the history of J&K that cloudbursts and flash floods have caused the deaths of so many people."
In 2006, a similar cloudburst had struck Nobra Valley in Ladakh. "Since that area had no human habitation, there was no loss of life," Ramshoo explained.
Motup Tashi, a resident of the old city of Leh said that water had started receding. "But, everybody is scared. I have never seen such tragedy in my life. Everybody is crying here. I am looking for my three cousins and two neighbors since morning and I am unable to locate them. I am just praying for their safety," Tashi told me over the phone.
J&K Police have set up shelters in different parts of town. Community kitchens are also being set up at different places for providing food to the affected people.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
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