Saving Downtown

After the worst floods, the fourth estate is abuzz with the tales of the local heroics. One such unfolded in Noorbagh area where the locals turned into daredevils by containing the furious waters of Jhelum to prevent downtown from drowning.  Safwat Zargar details the daredevil act

The Noorbagh bund that prevent the overflowing Jhelum to spill over the downtown. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Two weeks after the floods hit Srinagar city, inundating it beyond imagination, Noor Bagh Bund wears a look as if ravaged by a mammoth beast. People, chatting, cuddled in groups, talk in whispers. The area escaped floods by a needle’s difference, courtesy; a timely response by the locals who defeated Jhelum’s fury. Whispers and soft talk evidence the horror when Jhelum had turned cruel – washing off everything; homes, people, mosques, shrines, temples, hospitals, graveyards, and whatnot.

While the people of uptown Srinagar were reeling under one of the worst floods in the history of Kashmir valley, it was a massive local effort of people living in downtown which restricted the spilling over of roaring Jhelum to the old city. On September 7, when the water level in Qamarwari and Bemina belt had reached 25-feet, locals living on the peripheries and banks of Jhelum from Noor Bagh side did everything – from thousands of sandbags to hundred-feet-long logs – to fill the breaches on the riverside.

“There were almost four leaks from Noor Bagh side on Jhelum near Guzarbal over a span of four kilometres,” says Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a local. “It was scary.”

On Sunday evening many of the locals of Noor Bagh, particularly youth, had to return home from voluntary rescue operations in other areas when the alarming water level in Jhelum tried to breach the interiors of Shahee Mohalla, Bagwanpora, Palpora, Shunglipora and Guzarbal.

Watching the Jhelum fury wiping out almost every trace of human habitation on its banks, locals arranged thousands of empty synthetic bags and filled them with sand and mud, in order to clog the embankment.

The locals of the area used three lakh rupees from local Bait-Ul-Maal for bringing sand and gravel and for arranging fuel for trucks and bulldozers. “We arranged everything at our own level. We pooled in three bulldozers and six tippers,” says Mohammad Lateef, a local.

The residents raised donations for creating a barrier to a possible breach on Jhelum to save the old city Srinagar. KL Image: Kaisar Malik

“If we hadn’t done this, water would have wreaked havoc in entire downtown and it would have reached as far as Hawal or beyond that,” says another local, Abdul Rehman, a retired teacher while pointing out towards what looks like a haphazardly-built emergency dyke of popular logs and sandbags.

 “There was no help from the government at all. We didn’t see anyone,” says Kaisar Ahmad, a local who was involved in voluntary rescue operations at Batamaloo. “We went to Police Station Safa Kadal but they gave us some 20-30 bags. It was an insult! ”

Hundreds of local youth, elders and even women came out of their homes to help in the process. “It was chaotic but we managed to stuff the gulf. We used thousands of sandbags and dozens of trucks of grit,” recalls Asif Shah, a local youth.

The plugging process continued from Sunday (September 7) to Thursday (September 11), during which weather had slightly improved, though with conditions worst-ever on the ground.

“Even the people who had brought sand and gravel for construction donated it to save the area,” adds Kaisar. “Downtown would have been wiped off if it hadn’t been us.”

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