Deadly floods hit Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Sunday, forcing scores of residents to flee as Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the region to see the devastation first-hand.
Almost 250 people have been killed in the northern Himalayan region and in neighbouring Pakistan since torrential monsoon rains triggered flooding, landslides and house collapses in recent days.
Troops and other emergency personnel have been deployed in both countries to help with relief operations, with boats and helicopters used to reach those stranded.
The Jhelum river, swollen by days of heavy rain, flooded parts of Srinagar on Sunday and forced frantic residents to move to rooftops, with reports the first floors of several hospitals were underwater and cellular phone networks disrupted.
“I want to appeal to people not to panic,” Kashmir and Jammu state chief minister Omar Abdullah told reporters.
“I know the situation is bad but they should stay above the water level… it may take up to an hour but we will reach them and take them out,” he said.
“We are taking all the measures to ensure that we can reach the maximum number of people.”
Modi arrived to meet Abdullah and emergency response officials and take stock of the situation, described as the worst floods in the region for half a century.
Several thousand villages across the Jammu and Kashmir region have been hit and 350 of them are submerged, the home ministry said in a statement late Saturday.
The military, backed by 22 helicopters and four aircraft, has fanned out across the region to help with relief operations, with 11,000 people rescued so far, it said. The death toll has reached 116 in northern India, the ministry said, with another 128 across the border in Pakistan.
Some 69 people have died in Pakistan’s worst-hit Punjab province, another 48 in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and 11 in the northernmost territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, said Ahmed Kamal, spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority.
Heavy rains were, however, easing and have stopped altogether in parts of Pakistan following the floods that have hit 108 villages and damaged farmland in that country.
In Srinagar an army headquarters was under water along with some government buildings, while main roads including the one connecting the city to the airport were submerged.
An AFP reporter in Srinagar was forced to the third floor of his house after water flooded the second, with no sign of emergency officials to evacuate him.
“We will have to move to the roof but we are also worried about the building collapsing,” he said.
A police official said continuing bad weather and the floods have knocked out phone services in parts of the region.
“We are not able to get information from areas which have been cut off by floodwater,” an official in Srinagar’s police control room told the Press Trust of India news agency.
“Exact extent of deaths and destruction over the past 24 hours is not known.”
On Saturday some 30 bodies were pulled from a river in the mountainous Rajouri region of south Kashmir, a senior state official said.
The victims were among at least 63 people aboard a bus swept into a gorge last Thursday by fast-flowing floodwaters.