Agence France Presse
SRINAGAR — Anger is mounting over the slow pace of rescue operations in Indian Kashmir, as authorities say they are “overwhelmed” by the scale of deadly flooding that has left hundreds of thousands of people stranded in India and Pakistan.
The death toll from the cross-border disaster has surpassed 450 as emergency workers in both countries scramble to rescue marooned residents in the worst-hit areas.
With many parts of Indian Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar, cut off days after the floods hit, stranded residents and rescuers alike criticised the state government’s response. One military officer said officials were nowhere to be seen.
On Wednesday, it emerged that one rescue officer had been wounded in an attack by furious residents as anger boiled over.
National Disaster Response Force director general OP Singh told the NDTV news channel an “aggressive crowd” had tried to attack a rescue boat, injuring the officer.
As thousands of soldiers and other emergency workers stepped up operations in India’s Kashmir Valley, 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 late on Tuesday.
“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.”
More than 200 people have died in the Himalayan region’s worst floods in more than half a century.
In neighbouring Pakistan, another 256 people have been killed in the floods also triggered by days of heavy monsoon rains. Punjab has been the hardest-hit area.
Nearly 600,000 people have been affected and crops damaged, the National Disaster Management Authority said.
As the floods move downriver, there are fears of more inundations.
In the city of Lahore, the death toll from a mosque collapse rose to 24 on Wednesday, while a provisional minister said heavy monsoon rains may have been a contributing factor.
On a stretch of road in Srinagar in Indian Kashmir, hundreds of exhausted residents, some clutching children, others plastic bags of belongings, were walking to an army relief camp on higher ground in search of food and water.
Local army commander Dinesh Singh said a lack of government officials on the ground was 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 co-ordination on where to send the boats,” he said.
More than 400,000 people remain stranded, officials have said. Soldiers and emergency workers were still searching for those marooned as well as distributing water, biscuits, medical and other relief supplies.
About 80 planes and helicopters have been deployed for the operations, and more than 76,800 people rescued so far, the defence ministry said on Wednesday.
Rescue chief Singh said efforts were being hamstrung by communication failures, with some phone networks still knocked out.
“It’s the breakdown of communication which is causing problems. We are using wireless sets,” Singh told the Hindustan Times.