Tracking the Flood Threat

Shakir Mir

SRINAGAR

DSC_7125

Thursday, June 25, 2015

As the torrential rains battered Kashmir region, I travelled to South Kashmir’s Pampore town to gauge the panic triggered by swelling Jhelum. All I could see was restlessness. People had been out on roads watching helplessly at water level. Trunks of partially drowned Poplar trees along the banks had steeled their resolve against the aggressive river flow.

A beeline of vehicles was stranded on the freshly macadamized road. I could see a commotion from a distance that had been reason for the snarl. As I drove my vehicle a bit closer to the scene, I witnessed a group of paramilitary men regulating traffic. Behind them, at the popular bus stop, near Drangbal, a part of the parapet near the turn has cracked open allowing flood waters to spill over. The last time it happened during September flooding, Pampore was submerged with water inundating the houses and leaving the marooned residents to their own devices.

I was told by the locals how they had woken up to the nightmarish scenes on Thursday morning. Overnight rainfall on the intervening night of 23rd and 24th of June resulted into Jhelum swelling menacingly. Anxious residents made frantic calls to relatives and newspapers, apprising them about the water level that had risen furiously renewing ghoulish memories about the devastating floods of September last year.

I met a local boy, Suhail, who was panic-stricken, perhaps fearing another September-type flooding. “I can’t even bring myself to recollect those memories,” Suhail told me. Terrified by the announcements about the imminent flooding, most of his neighbours had left in the morning last year. Suhail and his family had been among few who had mustered some courage to stay. “My elder sister was scheduled to get married next month,” he said. “All the gold ornaments and other expensive items we had purchased in wake of marriage were there.”

On the fateful day of September 7, gushing waters ripped apart the embankment near Drangbal turn. And, it was just a matter of time before their neighbourhood was drowned.

Wary about their horrific tryst with the flood waters last year, the residents of Drangbal didn’t afford to take chance the second time. It was afternoon and water had risen all the way up to the level of road. “We are just one breach away from flooding,” quipped one onlooker.

I saw a horde of people exiting Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) at Sempore. Such was the panic that people were glued to their mobile sets to get the flood updates.

And then, I saw scores of young boys lugging loads of sandbags and plugging the riverbank breach at Drangbal. Even though the breach had been successfully fixed, water still managed to seep through. “I think that it will still come open,” feared Ayesha, a local resident. “Our fate is only in the hands of God now. I hope water starts to recede.”

I couldn’t move further down the South, as news of flood threat in parts of South Kashmir played an apparent spoiler in my stride. As I walked back, the sun started shining over Saffron town. The fading clouds were perhaps a signal that Jhelum wasn’t in a mood to make mess like it made in last fall.

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