September 7, 2014 / 9:33 AM / in 3 years

India's Modi visits Kashmir after floods kill 175

A Kashmiri man evacuates an elderly woman to a higher ground at a flooded road in Srinagar September 7, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

SRINAGAR India (Reuters) - The death toll from serious flooding in Indian-administered Kashmir climbed to 175 on Sunday, with homes, military bases and hospitals inundated in the region’s main city Srinagar as the Jhelum river overflowed its banks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew over the Kashmir valley, a mainly Muslim region with a history of separatist violence. The worst flooding there in 60 years has submerged villages and ruined crops.

“This is a national level disaster,” Modi said. He announced 11 billion rupees ($180 million) in disaster relief payments, as well as compensation to victims and their relatives.

Modi’s visit comes in the build up to state elections in the affected state of Jammu and Kashmir by the end of the year.

His nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking to expand support beyond the mainly-Hindu lowlands of Jammu and oust regional leader Omar Abdullah, who was allied to India’s last government defeated by Modi in May.

Although heavy rains abated on Saturday afternoon, flood waters rose sharply overnight in Srinagar, a city of 900,000, catching many people living in low-lying areas unawares.

“I could not save anything as the government did not issue any flood warning,” said Abdul Aziz of Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar, who drove his family to safety when water entered their home at around 4 o’clock in the morning.

“The majority of my neighbours who were sleeping are still trapped in their homes,” he said.

Modi met state chief minister Abdullah and other officials in Jammu, the other main city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

He also announced that 100,000 blankets, 5,000 tents and 50 tonnes of milk powder would be distributed to those forced from their homes.

Some 2,500 villages have been partially or completely submerged across the area, while thousands of people are stranded on rooftops waiting to be rescued.

Major roads - including the one to Srinagar airport - were under water, hampering relief efforts.

“The water level is decreasing in Jammu ... while the situation in Kashmir has worsened. In many areas, the ground floors are inundated with flood waters,” Abdullah told reporters.

About 22 air force helicopters and four aircraft were deployed to evacuate stranded people and to deliver relief. About 120 army units and eight teams of police reservists, equipped with boats and life jackets, were in action.

“We have relocated 13,000 people from flood hit areas. We had a shortage of boats and 100 were airlifted today,” said Rohit Kansal, the divisional commissioner for Kashmir.

Media reports also said nearly 170 people have been killed in neighbouring Pakistan after heavy rains brought flash floods and destroyed homes.

Kashmir has been divided since shortly after independence from British rule and partition in 1947 created the separate states of India and Pakistan.

Writing by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Andrew Heavens

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