Unsung ‘Marines’

As the floods posed threat to thousands of stranded persons around Srinagar city, many young brave-hearts plunged into troubled waters to rescue the lives held hostage by the threatening deluge. Safwat Zargar highlights the heroics of some daredevils

A woman near Sonwar is about to hug a man who has reportedly rescued hundreds of flood affected persons including her. Photo: Bilal Bahadur
A woman near Sonwar is about to hug a man who has reportedly rescued hundreds of flood-affected persons including her. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Till Wednesday last week, nobody had entered the Reka Chowk neighbourhood of Batamaloo where the water level had risen up to 10 feet and a dead body was lying unattended in a three-storied house for four days. For three days, no rescue boat or volunteer had entered the area. The body was of a 25-year-old youth who had died when his three-story house collapsed partially while rescuing his family members and saving his valuables. On Sunday, the locals of the area managed to drape the body with a bed-sheet but had decided to keep the body on the third storey of the collapsed house, as there was no patch of land left dry by the floods.

At 5 PM on Wednesday evening, a group of local volunteers, without any boat, waded through neck-deep water to fetch the body which had started to decompose. “The smell was extremely fetid,” says Kaisar Ahmad Malik, one of the members of Mercy Kash, Noorbagh, a local welfare organization.

“When we arrived first, the locals, angry over ‘no rescue’ or help from the government, misbehaved with us,” he says.

Two members of the organization, Muneer Ahmad and Showkat Ahmad, climbed up to the third storey and tied the body with a rope. Kaisar, along with few other volunteers, huddled, and spread their arms, making a sort of stretcher, while the rope-tied body was slowly lowered down.

“We handed over the body to locals,” Kaisar informs. “We had also taken up some relief material with us.”

On Sunday morning when the overflowing Jhelum entered posh-neighbourhood of Jawahar Nagar, an early morning phone call rang up Dr Tariq Ahmad Malik, executive member of J&K Yateem Foundation. The foundation’s orphanage Bait-ul-Hilal at Jawahar Nagar where some 50 orphans were living was under deluge.

Worried, Tariq gathered a group of dozen volunteers in his native village of Soibugh Budgam and left for inundated Srinagar city in a pickup truck with a few boats, during the night.

Part of Tariq’s group were two twenty-year-old boys – Aqib Ali Zargar and Tasleem Ahmad Malik – who in the battle with water, that followed in Srinagar, would end up in saving, not only the 50 children at the orphanage but a few dozen locals as well.

The two youth (both labourers) engineered one of the many makeshift boats that still dominate the rescue operation in Srinagar even after two weeks of the floods. They filled half a dozen jute sacks with plastic bottles, tied them together, and placed them underneath a large plywood sheet, creating a raft and floated people to safety.

“Our boys saved more than hundred people including the orphans,” says Dr Tariq Ahmad Malik. “Everybody was running for his own safety. There was no one to help the trapped orphans.”

A close-relative marooning in flooded Bemina locality had led Imran Ali, a mechanic, to take a walk in floods from his house in Fateh Kadal old city on September 10 (Wednesday). On reaching Hamdania colony Bemina, looking for his trapped relative, Imran’s gaze fell upon an elderly couple, unattended for three days, begging for help. “I forgot my relative and started looking for a boat,” Imran says.

After a long gruelling with some locals over a makeshift boat, Imran sailed in the 15-feet water and saved the old couple. The next turn was of his relative. But, Imran says, he stopped for some more time and rescued more people. “I don’t remember exactly the number, but they were of every kind; men, women, children, young, old,” he says.

A young boy making way through a flooded road in Bemina. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

24-year-old Imran says, his impulse to save people, grew, when he saw “no one helping the trapped people”. He again went to Bemina next day to save people. Though the water levels have receded a lot in the city, in Bemina the water level is still high. Even ten days after the floods, Imran still takes a walk to Bemina, every day. “Suffering and despair of people magnets me to the place,” he says.

In south Kashmir’s Pampore area, one of the worst-hit areas in recent floods and where the water level had gone up to thirty-feet, a sixteen-year-old boy’s heroics saved two men from getting buried in water. During the intervening night of 6 and 7 September, when roaring Jhelum began to flow through entire Pampore town and its interiors, the students of the Shah-E-Hamdan seminary raised an alarm as the water filled the ground floor within ten minutes. Panicked, the 40 students living in the seminary, shifted to the first floor of the three-storied seminary building.

At midnight, Pampore looked like a ghost town, where shrieks and wails from everywhere made every soul voice prayers. It was at this time, sixteen-year-old Adil Ahmad, a seminary student, realized that in the two-storied building of a preparatory school adjacent to the seminary – at a distance of some 50-60 feet – two private security guards were sleeping. In order to wake them up, the students whistled and shouted out to the two sleeping men.

When they finally woke up, the water level was ascending constantly and the two men saw themselves surrounded by water in their bedroom on the first floor. In a few minutes, the trapped duo watching the water swirling and submerging the second floor shifted to the sloped tin-roof of the building. On feeling that the death of two men on the roof was just a matter of few minutes, Adil gathered some wooden planks from the third storey of the seminary building and rope-tied them with few plastic bottles and tin boxes. He tied a rope to himself, the other end of which was being held by the students in the seminary building, and sailed on the thunderous water to reach the trapped men.

Adil’s makeshift boat and bravery ended up in saving both the men, but when it was the turn of Adil to sail back to the safety (the seminary building was also in water), the water level rose up to the tin-roof, and stumbling Adil, suffered a long gash on his hand, while trying to balance himself on the roof in the swelling waters. Injured, he managed to save himself, also.

For three days, no help or rescue teams reached the Shah-E-Hamdan seminary where the seminary students along with the two rescued security guards were sheltering.

On Tuesday (September 9) when the rains had stopped and sun had begun to show his much-awaited face, a rescue boat of Indian army navigated through the waters in Pampore and rescued the group.

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