February 2005 News

In Valley's Hr Of Need, Army Leads The Way With Shovels

22 February 2005
The Indian Express

Srinagar: The Army is fighting a 'grim battle' in vast chunks of south and north Kashmir-and they're doing it with shovels. Pressed into service to tackle unprecedented snowfall, these shovels are now 'life-saving equipment' for soldiers battling 70 feet snow along the LoC and in areas buried by avalanches. Their first priority: rescue civilians. They have also cleared roads, provided essential supplies and even set up communication facilities. 'This is an unprecedented crisis,' Maj Gen R S Mehta, Officiating General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, told The Indian Express. 'After 43 years, we have had such snowfall,' he said. The Army has virtually taken charge of places where voluntary organisations are non-existent and the civil administration has completely collapsed. And the rescue stories- apart from digging out bodies, dropping food and blankets in the upper reaches-have gone a long way in boosting their image in the Valley. According to Maj Gen Mehta, Uri has seen 70 feet of snow and Gulmarg 66 feet. 'Our troops are battling unprecedented degrees of difficulty... the shovel has become the life-saving equipment. After every half an hour, the soldiers have to go out to clear the snow. Otherwise, they will be buried alive without anybody even knowing about it,' he said. Talking about Waltengo Nar and Nagin-the twin villages that have suffered the worst casualties (151 dead so far), Maj Gen Mehta said a survivor came to the 49 RR post three days ago. 'He said there were 15 dead who were pulled out by the villagers,' said Maj Gen Mehta, adding, 'A rescue column walked for eight hours but could not make it. The team started again the next morning.' The Army finally managed to contact the survivors. 'Our men have been busy digging out the dead and rescuing the living,' he said. Maj Gen Mehta said that with helicopters ruled out due the nine-feet blanket of snow, the men had to manually pull out survivors. 'We have been dropping food packets and blankets for villagers caught in the snow,' he said. The Army has also managed to reach Sidnar, another badly-hit village in the Kapran area of south Kashmir, said Maj Gen Mehta. 'We had been trying to reach there for the last three days. Now we have picked up 14 survivors and shifted them to Alsidhar village, close to our camp,' he said. 'A survivor had walked for 20 hours to alert us and we launched a rescue effort immediately.' The soldiers are also helping clear the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, though the Army is not very optimistic about early restoration of traffic. 'The Army is working day and night to help open the road. We are working between Kound and Lower Munda,' said Maj Gen Mehta. 'Every hill is loaded with avalanches where a walking man can trigger one,' he said. 'It also depends on the weather.' Besides rescue teams, the Army has sent 24 medical detachments to affected areas, apart from setting up phone booths and providing mobiles for survivors to contact relatives. In Srinagar, the Army got snow- clearing machines in the act to open all crucial roads leading to major hospitals. In fact, a group of civilians, including Doordarshan employees, were evacuated from the Shankaracharya Temple in the heart of Srinagar after snow had completely blocked the road. The Army has also provided over one lakh litres each of kerosene and diesel from reserve stocks to help the needy, besides ferrying a planeload of kerosene every day.


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