J&K floods: How Twitter, Facebook are helping the military in their rescue ops

The floods in Jammu and Kashmir have caused immense devastation with over 150 people dead and many more believed to be stranded. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the situation a 'national disaster' while Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has compared it to the deadly Uttarakhand floods that killed thousands of people last year.

The floods have sparked a huge social media response around information-sharing. On Facebook, a group called Kashmir Flood Information Channel has people putting out the latest information on the floods, and also giving out details about the rescue operations.

One of the latest posts point out that the state machinery has completely failed in rescuing people and rather it is the local people who are coming together to help those who are stranded, both tourists and residents. Another post asks that people should not spread rumours, another mentions how one family is stuck in a particular colony in Srinagar and gives out the mobile number of the family to be rescued.

In fact for many social media is the only hope of getting rescued. As this Daily Mail copy points out, one Aamir Bin Masood posted on Facebook, "My family is stuck at HNo. 456 MIG Colony Bemina... I request all my contacts to shared message and use their good offices to evacuate ppl inside... my network may go off anytime... pls I request all… (sic)".

And it is this information that is being used to collect data to rescue people. According to a PTI report the Army headquarters is forwarding all the distress messages received by it on its website, Facebook page and Twitter handle to a WhatsApp group, which includes, senior commanders of the Srinagar based 15 Corps and Nagrota-based 16 Corps along with the units in field areas.

The DailyMail report notes, "IAF helicopter teams are being provided with information on stranded people through the Internet so that crews can evacuate them."

People have also been posting on Facebook about the website called JKFloodRelief.org which lists out details of the kinds of medicine supplies, donations, etc that are needed in Kashmir. The Donate here page has a list of people in various cities, who are ready to collect the supplies that are needed. Volunteers have been posting on Facebook as well highlighting that donations can be passed on to them.

 J&K floods: How Twitter, Facebook are helping the military in their rescue ops

The floods in Kashmir. Reuters

The website also provides a link to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, (PMNRF) where people can make donations as well. The list of priority supplies that are needed are divided according to medicines, essential supplies such as sanitary napkins, waterproof tents and essential food items like Milk formula for babies.

On Twitter the website has a handle called JKFloodRelief which has been giving out information on missing people, those rescue, etc. It is currently the go-to-handle for the latest information on the situation in Kashmir.

And clearly Twitter and Facebook seem to be the platform where people are turning to for help, despite a number of official helpline numbers getting floated around. The reason for this is that many of the helplines are actually of no use and overloaded with calls. According to an Indian Express report, official rescue teams are missing in action and residents are the often only source of help for stranded people.

Even J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has acknowledged that many people have also tweeted out asking for help, which shows that many of the stranded people see social media as possibly a more effective way of getting help. Abdullah tweeted saying:

As far as social media is concerned Google docs are also being used to share lists of those who are still stuck due to the floods. People have also extensively tweeted out details about areas where there has been extensive flooding.

The only problem is that it's very to hard to verify the details, given that the official rescue effort has been so slow. Whether on social media or in the newspapers, the pattern is the same: rescue operations have failed to help great many on the ground.

A group of tourists who were stuck in an hotel in Rajbagh were heard shouting for help. “Please help us, take us out of here, this (guesthouse) is sinking, please take us out,” they cried, according to the Indian Express report.

The fact that even the tourism minister is trapped and officials are unable to rescue him conveys the severity of the situation. On official told IE, “We are just conveying the message to the nearest police station, and they try to rescue the people. Even we are uncertain how to deal with this situation.”

One resident Mushtaq Ahmed, whose family has been trapped since Saturday night told the paper, “I called many officials and the control room in Srinagar but no one has came to rescue us."

It is evident from the messages on social media that the traditional rescue methods have failed. As some have pointed out, they were rescued by the local citizens who have had to take matters into their own hands.

The crisis has also shown the power of how social media can be used to crowd-source some real help when official help is far away.

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Updated Date: Sep 09, 2014 09:26:26 IST