Kashmir floods: Swelling Jhelum brings back nightmares of 2014 deluge, panic spreads in the Valley as water level rises

Thoughts of the September 2014 floods in Jammu and Kashmir returned to haunt residents of Srinagar on Friday as a houseboat went underwater in the swelling Jhelum after incessant rain. By evening, residents of Srinagar's thronged the bridge over the rive to gauge the water level. It was déjà vu for many as in 2014, an overflowing Jhelum had inundated the entire locality.

A houseboat capsized in the Jhelum in Srinagar after heavy rain. PTI.

A houseboat capsized in the Jhelum in Srinagar after heavy rain. PTI.

Sheikh Altaf, a resident of Rajbagh area, had moved all his belongings to the first floor of his house before heading out to check out Jhelum's rising waters. A fake message on WhatsApp that said "it could be 2014 again" had triggered panic among local residents. Not wanting to take a chance, several residents shifted their belongings to upper floors.

"Every increasing inch of water in this river brings back memories of 2014, when we left our house with nothing," the 37-year-old shopkeeper said. "Everything was marooned in a matter of minutes. So we can't take a chance with the uncertain and unforgiving Jhelum."

The 2014 floods were the worst to hit the state in 60 years. It damaged 2,61,361 structures, 3,27,000 hectares of agricultural land and 3,96,000 hectares of horticultural land. The housing sector suffered losses over Rs 300 billion, and the business sector lost around Rs 700 billion.

The water level in the Jhelum has been rising since Wednesday due to incessant rain, and panic spread after the government sounded a flood alert in five districts of South Kashmir. "We had to sound the alert because the water level in the Liddar and Vishow streams crossed the danger level," said Mir Muhammad Shahnawaz, chief engineer of irrigation and flood control. "These twin water bodies were responsible for the 2014 floods in Kashmir."

Earlier in the day in Ashthal locality, Vishow washed away a bridge that connects more than 10 villages with Kulgam district in South Kashmir.

Although the meteorological department has predicted that the weather will improve from Saturday, the level of water in Jhelum river continues to be threatening. Along the national highway in the Sangam region in South Kashmir's Pulwama district, the water level was at 23.32 feet on Friday. In Ram Munshi Bagh in Central Kashmir, the level was one foot below the flood alert mark, at 17.07 feet. In Asham in North Kashmir, the water level was at 5.83 feet, eight feet below flood declaration mark.

All through Friday, the department of irrigation and flood control recorded spikes in the water level in the Jhelum, triggering panic in the Kashmir Valley. In Srinagar, the rain left several localities waterlogged, adding to the fear of residents. Authorities carried out exercises to drain the excess water throughout the day in the city, particularly in residential areas.

"I was looking at the houseboat in the Jhelum for 30 minutes as it got submerged and told my family to be ready," said Mohsin Koka, who owns a shop in the Bund, the famous walkaway the British constructed to stop the Jhelum from overflowing into Srinagar.

The water level of the Jhelum under the Zero Bridge in Srinagar's Rajbagh area crossed the danger mark on Friday. Firstpost/Sameer Yasir

The water level of the Jhelum under the Zero Bridge in Srinagar's Rajbagh area crossed the danger mark on Friday. Firstpost/Sameer Yasir

The meteorological department said seven to eighty millimetres of rain was recorded in the Kashmir Valley and in the higher reaches of the Chenab Valley. Earlier, a 25-year-old was killed in rain-induced flash floods in Poonch district's Surankote region in Jammu. According to local reports, residents informed the police, who then recovered the body from the site.

"It will continue to rain on 1 and 2 July because of western and eastern disturbances," said Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department. He said his department had already informed the administration to advise pilgrims on the Amarnath Yatra to wear raincoats and take precautions during their journey.

"We totally suspended the movement of pilgrims to the shrine through the Baltal route because of non-stop rainfall in the Yatra's path since the night of 27 June, keeping safety in mind," the CEO of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, Umang Narula, said in a statement.

The 60-day long Amarnath Yatra was also suspended because of the threat of landslides in higher altitudes.

After reviewing the flood preparedness with his advisers, Governor of Jammu and Kashmir NN Vohra directed the divisional commissioner of Kashmir and all deputy commissioners to set up control rooms for the general public.

People living along the Jhelum and in low-lying areas, including Srinagar's Rajbagh neighbourhood, have been asked to stay alert. In view of the flood threat, the government, on Friday evening, announced that schools in Kashmir will remain closed on Saturday.

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Updated Date: Jun 30, 2018 14:59:30 IST

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