NEW, DELHI/ISLAMABAD – Authorities in Indian Kashmir collected the bodies of women and children floating in the streets on Thursday as anger mounted over what many survivors said was a bungled operation to help those caught in the region’s worst flooding in 50 years.
Both the Indian and Pakistan sides of the disputed Himalayan region have been hit by extensive flooding in recent days, and about 450 people have been killed, with Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar particularly hard hit.
“Some air force officials have reported that they have seen bodies of women and children floating. We are making every effort to collect the bodies as soon as we can,” said Srinagar police officer Faizal Wani.
The ferocity of the floods appeared to have caught the administration in Indian Kashmir by surprise and has prompted an outpouring of anger in a Muslim-majority region where a 25-year-old revolt against Indian rule simmers.
Wani said the army and state officials were moving survivors to field hospitals and relief camps on higher grounds. Nearly 100,000 people have been rescued by the military in the past week and some people were seeking shelter in mosques.
Police said some Srinagar residents had been trapped in the top floors of their homes since the Jhelum River, swollen by unusually heavy rain, surged higher last week. The river flows from Indian Kashmir to the Pakistan side, and then down into Pakistan’s lower Indus River basin.
Officials say 220 people have been killed in Srinagar, a city of about 1 million people, ringed by mountains and on the banks of Dal Lake, but the scale of the disaster would only become clear once the water recedes.
Basharat Peer, a journalist and author of a book on the Kashmir conflict, who is working as a volunteer in Srinagar, said the response to the disaster had been woeful.
“It is a clear case of mismanagement. Why are the basic supplies still not made available?” Peer asked.
“There are thousands of people searching for their families They have no idea whether they are alive or dead. We have no clean drinking water, no medicines and food to feed the children,” he said.
In neighboring Pakistan, 257 people have been killed and officials said the toll could rise.
Half a million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan and large tracts of farmland have been inundated.
Indian authorities in New Delhi said they had been overwhelmed by the worst flooding in half a century. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be conducting an emergency meeting to assess the disaster.
“We are just shocked to see how our paradise has been destroyed. Proper assessment of the disaster is yet to begin,” a senior interior ministry official in New Delhi said of Kashmir.
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