With a history of floods dating back to half a century villagers in Khadermoh hoped that water will not get beyond their plinth levels. But they were wrong like many others who miscalculated the magnitude of the catastrophic floods. Safwat Zargar travels to this sleepy village in Pulwama district to see how people cope up with post-flood devastation
Much before the floods would snake through Srinagar’s main business hub Lal Chowk after inundating the city, residents of Khadermoh village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district had their homes already under water. At noon of September 4 (Thursday), a spillover near the famous Kandizal embankment started to let out the flood water. Subsequently, on the same evening, the narrow stream: Tulbren Nallah – meeting river Jhelum near the village – changed its course towards the village by washing away its embankments.
“Next day, some couldn’t even attend Friday prayers at the local Jamia Masjid,” says Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, a retired government official. With the stream overflowing towards the village, the water level rose up to 3 feet. Villagers fled to a higher area in the vicinity where some 10-15 houses are built. Outside the raised area, some 160-180 houses were submerged.
Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, a retired Assistant Conservator in Forest department (ACF), says he has some stray memories of 1957 floods. According to him, the level of recent floods was 6 feet more than 1957 floods. Bhat, who at every hour, continuously made notes about the water level in his area, says floods turned paddy fields into a lake.
In between the night of September 6 (Saturday) and 7 (Sunday), all along the embankment of river Jhelum from Khadermoh up to Kandizal and beyond that, a three-feet spillover sent enormous quantities of muddy water, with considerable velocity, in the direction of rice fields and plantations that surround the village. Before that, water level was rising by one inch per hour; it went up to four inches per hour. The result: rising water cut-off the village from other areas of the district. Srinagar was another continent.
“On Saturday morning (September 6) at 7 AM, water started rising. My plantation of poplar trees was washed off by floods” says Bhat, who, at the time of floods had left his home while wading through three-four feet water and camped at the dry patch of the village. During that time, Bhat remembers nobody had come to rescue the trapped civilians. “After three days, I managed to get a boat and reach my family.”
More than 200 residents remained trapped during floods. Khadermoh remained in water for eight days with water level continuously varying. The highest was eleven feet which remained for three days; about nine feet for two days. Water level fell gradually for the rest of period.
Except for volunteers and locals, who had managed boats to cruise over flood water, villagers say there was no relief or help from government. The volunteers were the first to reach the stranded population with food items and bottled water.
As the water receded, to the much respite of villagers, there was no casualty. However, nine houses had collapsed, other structures had developed cracks. Swathes of paddy land and trees were nowhere. The black cotton soil of upper cliff which had become dry refuge for the people had loosened due to floods. At the cliff, the difference between the water level and houses was just six-feet.
“It is scary,” says Ghulam Mohammad Hajam, whose concrete house has developed cracks due to floods. “The floor of kitchen has sunk in and the cracks in the pillars supporting the slab are widening. But we still live inside it.”
Hajam’s demand resonates with many in the village. “There should be suitable compensation for cracked houses as well. Cracked houses are more dangerous than collapsed ones,” Hajam says.
With a population of around 1600 souls, Khadermoh has been given the status of Other Backward Class (OBC) a long time back and according to Bhat the village is reaping benefits of it. It has a government middle school where most of the village children study before moving to Pampore and Nihama for higher studies.
A medical assistant posted at the health centre near the village looks after the ailing. It is housed in a dilapidated building above some shops. Bhat says there should be a concrete and spacious building for the health centre.
In case of emergencies, at a five-kilometre distance, sub-district hospital Pampore is the destination, and beyond that, Srinagar.
Post-floods, a medical team from health department visited the area and distributed chlorine tablets among the people. Many received vaccines and tetanus injections. Damage assessment done by the patwari after the floods has created a hope among the residents of rehabilitation. MLA Pampore, Zahoor Ahmad ventured to this area after flood was over. Locals say he too was marooned at his official residence in Tulsibagh, Srinagar.
Numberdar of the village, Ghulam Ahmad Mir says 5-6 families have received the compensation of 75,000 rupees announced by the government. Two weeks back, 50 kilograms of free rice was distributed among the villagers.
Though there were fortunately no human casualties due to floods, it however didn’t spare animals. More than two dozen sheep drowned in a private sheep farm in the village. Few cows died too. Farmers are worried about the non-availability of the fodder for their cattle, this season.
Family members of Manzoor Ahmad Sofi are presently living in a tin-shed adjacent to their house. Before floods, Sofi’s three-storey house of mud and bricks had enough space to accommodate a family of thirteen. Now, the Sofi’s are cramming up inside the window-less shed of tin sheets and wood salvaged from the debris of his house.
“It is too dangerous to enter the building now. It can collapse anytime,” Sofi says, while circling around his house. The plinth is severely damaged and has boulders puking out at corners.
On economic front, Khadermoh seems to be dependent on its own. Apart from deriving livelihood from agriculture, one-fourth of the population is associated with some 20 stone crushers and macadam plants for their bread and butter. The area is also known for poplar plantations.
The family of Ghulam Ahmad Bhat is scared to enter their house as one of the sides of their house has collapsed. The remaining part of the one-storey building is full of cracks. “We are currently living at our neighbour’s house,” says Fatima, wife of Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, while walking on the street that leads towards her house. “We have received the relief cheque,” she adds, while claiming ignorance about the amount figure.
“I don’t know what we’ll able to do with this money. It took us a lifetime to build this one-storey building.”