SRINAGAR, India (AFP) – More than 200,000 people remained stranded Saturday in Indian Kashmir even as flood waters receded, revealing the full extent of the horrific devastation in the Himalayan region, including neighbouring Pakistan, officials said.
The floods and landslides from days of heavy monsoon rains have now claimed more than 450 lives in Pakistan and India, with rescuers struggling to cope with the large-scale disaster.
But as the muddy brown waters subside, emergency officials are able to reach more stranded people in Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, and surrounding areas afflicted by the worst flooding in a century.
“Rescue teams are now able to go inside houses and get out those still trapped inside and account for the dead bodies,” Shantmanu, divisional commissioner of Jammu region, who uses one name, told AFP.
The federal government estimates at least 200 people died and 130,000 people have been rescued in restive Indian Kashmir where militants have been fighting Indian rule since the late 1980s.
“More than 200,000 people are still stranded, but the exact number is hard to assess,” Shantmanu said.
But health worries were mounting about water-borne diseases with local media reporting animal carcasses in the streets.
State chief minister Omar Abdullah, a target of mounting public anger over the government’s slow response to the catastrophe, said houses would be rebuilt before “the immense cold” of winter strikes.
“There’s no question of people living in tents in winter,” he said in Srinagar, according to the Press Trust of India, adding 137 relief camps were operating in the Kashmir valley alone that were helping over 100,000 people.
Abdullah said disinfectants like chlorine were being used to avert water-borne diseases.
“Clean drinking water is a problem. I’ve asked authorities to use medicine liberally to reduce chances of disease,” Abdullah said.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told India’s NDTV now “we are bound to have water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea gastroenteritis” but “we’re very alert to everything”.
Each flood-hit family whose home was destroyed will get an initial 75,000 rupees ($1,233) to rebuild and six months of free food rations, the state government said.
As the water-logged streets were being cleared, a “continuous flow” of visitors — mainly from the rest of India – who had been stranded headed for Srinagar airport, but there were not enough flights, Shantmanu said.
“More than 5,000 people are waiting at the airport.”
Abdullah has defended the long time it took for authorities to help some people stricken by the floods, saying no one could have anticipated the ferocity and magnitude of the disaster.