NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Flood waters started receding in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday, giving rescue teams a chance to reach tens of thousands of villagers stranded by the heaviest rainfall in half a century.
Floods and landslides triggered by days of rain in the disputed Himalayan region have killed at least 450 people in India and Pakistan and cut off more than one million people from basic services.
“Finally the flood water levels are receding. Now our teams will be able to enter some of the villages that are totally submerged. Our boats are ready,” RK Khan, a police official in the region’s summer capital, Srinagar, told Reuters.
The swollen Jhelum river flooded large parts of the city of nearly one million people, snapping communication lines as desperate families were forced to huddle on rooftops of houses and mosques for survival.
“There are some villages where everything has been swept away. People are extremely angry, frustrated and exhausted,” said Khan, who manages the state’s emergency control room.
State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah vowed to restore emergency services.
“I know people have lost everything. We promise to rehabilitate them. No relief and rehab camps can be perfect. We are doing all we can,” Abdullah told reporters.
He said the top priority was to distribute clean drinking water, medicines, food for infants and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.
The Indian army has evacuated 76,000 people from their homes, mosques and government buildings. The death toll from the flooding in Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s northernmost state, reached 220 by Wednesday.
The flooding is the first major humanitarian emergency under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and also comes at a difficult time for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has faced weeks of street protests aimed at forcing him out.
In Pakistan, at least 231 people were reported to have been killed by the floods across the country, including Pakistan’s side of Kashmir.
South Asia experiences monsoon rains from June to September, which are vital for its agriculture. But the rains frequently turn to floods, devastating crops, destroying homes and sparking outbreaks of diseases like diarrhoea.