Dozens feared dead as floods sweep Kashmir

UP TO 70 people are missing feared dead after floods swept a bus into a gorge in Kashmir.
Men carry a boy to safety and use boats to negotiate the flood waters in Srinagar. Picture: APMen carry a boy to safety and use boats to negotiate the flood waters in Srinagar. Picture: AP
Men carry a boy to safety and use boats to negotiate the flood waters in Srinagar. Picture: AP

The overcrowded bus was carrying wedding guests when it was washed away yesterday in Indian-administered Kashmir, a state official said.

Rescuers were unable to find any trace of the vehicle in the gushing waters.

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“Rescue teams are there, ­including a column of the army,” police inspector general Rajesh Kumar said.

“Air force helicopters are also ready, but heavy rains and a strong current make it difficult,” he said, adding that some of the passengers could have escaped to safety.

The passengers were on their way to a wedding in a village in the Rajouri region, about 110 miles south-west of Kashmir’s main city Srinagar.

The bus was reportedly supposed to hold 54 people but there were reports there could have been up to 70 people on board.

An official said rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rain and strong currents but would resume today.

The region’s wedding season has been disrupted by heavy rain and the worst floods in 22 years and many ceremonies in the area have been postponed as a result of the downpours.

At least 14 people have died in the past two days as a result of the rain. Authorities have closed schools and colleges and cancelled train services in the area throughout the day.

Meteorologists said the heavy rains were likely to continue until Sunday, at the earliest.

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Police officer Imtiyaz Hussain said the 14 people killed in recent days had been swept away by floodwaters or buried by mud from mountain slopes.

They included a paramilitary officer whose bunker collapsed on him while he was on duty.

Soldiers and rescue workers used boats to move thousands of people to higher ground. At least 100 villages across the Kashmir valley were flooded by overflowing lakes and rivers, ­including Jhelum River, which was up to 4ft above its danger level, officials said.

Landslides and floods are common in India during the monsoon season, which runs from June to September.

Parts of Srinagar were also flooded. In the Bemina neighbourhood, thousands of residents waded through ankle-deep water that entered their homes.

Authorities evacuated 5,000 people from the neighbourhood and 100 others were ­believed to be stranded there.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. The neighbouring countries have fought three wars, two of them over control of Kashmir, since winning independence from Britain in 1947.

Authorities have declared a “disaster alert” in the region, with all schools and colleges closed and exams being ­postponed.

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Kashmir’s economy is centred around agriculture. Historically, Kashmir became known worldwide when cashmere was exported to other regions and nations.

The economy was badly damaged by the 2005 earthquake which resulted in more than 70,000 deaths in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.