SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - About 150,000 people were still stranded in their homes a week after Indian Kashmir’s worst flood in over a century and fears grew on Sunday of an outbreak of diseases from vast fields of stagnant brown water.
Indian army and civilian boats trawled through the streets -now water channels - of the state capital Srinagar – picking up residents and delivering water, food and basic medicine to people who chose to remain camped out in the upper floors of their houses.
The state administration, which was itself knocked out after the waters of the Jhelum river gushed into the city center, has struggled to cope with the flood, the worst in 109 years.
The disaster has fueled public anger in the Muslim-majority region where a revolt against Indian rule has simmered for nearly a quarter century.
Officials said they did not have enough pumps to drain out the water that had swept through Srinagar, a city of 1 million ringed by mountains. Several of the state’s pumps were under water and 30 new ones had been ordered from New Delhi.
“Stagnant water is much more dangerous than flowing water,” said Dr. Showkat Zargar, the director of the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), one of the few functioning hospitals in the city.
“There are a lot of animals that have died,” he said. “This is the biggest source of infection.”
Not far from the hospital, dozens of dead cows lay on either side of the road on Sunday morning after a dairy flooded last week.
Both the Indian and Pakistan sides of the disputed Himalayan territory have been hit by extensive flooding since the Jhelum river, swollen by unusually heavy rain, surged last week. The river flows from Kashmir to the Pakistan side, and then down into Pakistan’s lower Indus river basin.
The government has put the death toll at 200 in the part of Kashmir it controls but there are fears that number will rise as the damage to Srinagar and villages in southern Kashmir is fully revealed.
On the Pakistani side, officials put the death toll at 264 on Friday.
In Srinagar’s southern neighborhood of Raj Bagh, a boatload of army personnel stopped at the Presentation Convent Higher Secondary School and helped five nuns clamber down a steep ladder from the school, where they’d been stranded for six days and were running out of drinking water.
“We haven’t had any contact with the outside world,” said Sister Elsie Thomas, taking in the eerie waterworld where plastic bottles, snarls of barbed wire and the odd dead animal floated alongside underwater automated teller machines and hair salons.
But many others have not been as lucky, and have waited days for rescue in vain, fueling anger among residents toward the army and the state government which they said has been absent in the disaster.
As the same army craft made its way through the narrow canals, a boat of several men shouted angrily at the soldiers.
“We don’t need your help!” one man yelled. “Whatever you have, we don’t need any of it!”
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are deployed in the Kashmir Valley, where the army says it has succeeded in putting down the armed groups that it believes are supported by Pakistan.
A new generation of young Kashmiris, who have grown up with house raids and army checkpoints, feel increasingly angry at Indian rule and champion street protests rather than the violent militancy that characterized the 1990s.
Jammu and Kashmir Revenue Secretary Vinod Kaul said it was natural for citizens to blame their government when struck by a disaster of this scale. “This is a democratic system,” he said.
As the army boat passed, people standing at the water’s edge asked for specific drugs like blood pressure or diabetes medication, which the volunteers onboard were not carrying.
“People can’t get their drugs, so their diseases are becoming emergencies,” said Zardar.
One 35-year-old man died in the hospital on Sunday after suffering a heart attack while stranded in his home. In another case, a man who had a treatable injury from a car crash before the floods could not return to the hospital for care, developed gangrene, and had to have his leg amputated.
“The real injuries are going to reach us now,” said Zargar. “Patients who have broken limbs are still sitting at home. Once the roads are open, there will be a flood of patients.”
Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Rosalind Russell