Around 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, the sound of people screaming brought Shakeela Nazir rushing to her window. In the streets outside her house in Bemina, a neighborhood of thousands in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, people were milling around in panic as a tide of floodwater was rushing towards her home. A rickshaw driver in the street shouted to her that the swollen bank of the nearby Doodh Ganga channel had broken.
The 28 year-old government employee said in an interview with The Washington Post that she was the only able bodied person in the house, where she lived with her mother, who is ill, and a cousin who is disabled. They huddled upstairs on the first floor as Nazir tried to reassure them, though she had switched off the lights and carried the transformer from the ground floor, knowing the water was coming.
The rising flood eventually spilled through the front gate of her house and into the ground floor lobby. By 6 a.m., it was almost too high to stand in, and Nazir could not swim.
“We saw our ground floor filling with water, everything was water,” she said. “I was walking on the ground floor and the water was at my shoulders, I had to push myself forward.”
She dragged herself through the shoulder-high water, trying to reach the door to get help. The water was dirty, she said, with floating debris and insects, swirling around inside the front room of her house.
“The government did nothing, it was only the neighbors there to help,” she said.
The heavy rains, which started nearly a week ago, continued Friday in a steady downpour. So far at least 28 people have lost their lives in the catastrophic flooding and consequent landslides, which has affected at least 100 villages across the Kashmir valley and forced thousands to abandon their homes, the Associated Press reported.
“In half of the city, people have shifted up to the first floor of their houses, there’s this threat of flood looming large,” said Shuja’at Bukhari, editor in chief of Rising Kashmir, a local newspaper. Bukhari reported on the floods in Kashmir in 1994, but said that this time is far worse already. “This time the rains show no intention to stop, may God be with us,” he told The Post.
The government only began giving alerts to people in Srinagar on Wednesday, he said, claiming there was little to no preparedness for disaster management.
“It’s not only a question of what people face today but what they will face after the rain has subsided — the damage,” he said, warning of the long-term impact with such a large number of houses damaged.
Kashmir’s chief irrigation and flood control engineer, Javed Jaffer, said the Jhelum river, a massive waterway that runs through Pakistan and India, was flowing at the highest levels ever recorded, up to 1.5 meters (4 feet) above the danger level. “The danger mark of the river at Sangam in south Kashmir is 23, and it is now flowing at 34,” Jaffer reported.
By midday on Thursday, a full 12 hours after the waters began approaching Nazir’s house, some people with an old boat from nearby who had been evacuating those in the neighborhood paddled right in through her front door.
“It felt like a nightmare, a boat was able to come into our lobby,” she said.
As they were evacuated from their home, clutching an armful of clothes and medicines, she saw the force of the water had flipped over the fridge and the stove was turned around. “Everything was floating or fully submerged,” she said.
By Friday almost everyone in Bemina had left, with officials claiming to have evacuated more than 5,000 people and 100 others believed to be stranded there.
More than 100 patients had to be evacuated from the main hospital in the area, SKIMS Bemina, which was badly flooded, and transferred to another hospital, according to Samina Maqbool, a health worker at SKIMS Medical College in Srinagar.
“The hospital is full of water, all the ground floor is full of water and it is rising to first floor,” said Maqbool, adding that hospitals were admitting many patients with injuries related to the flooding.
Nazir and her family are staying with relatives in a house nearby which escaped the water.
As she watched the banks of the channel being bolstered with soil bags during the day, she worried the waters could rise again.
“We are still in my neighborhood and in the night we fear the water will come again, if the flood gets worse we will have to go from this place also,” she said.