120 killed, 425 injured; 100 missing in cloud bursts in Leh CRPF camp6 August 2010
The Daily Excelsior
LEH: About 120 people were killed and 425 injured in worst ever cloud burst and flash floods in Leh which caused unprecedented destruction in the entire district in general and Leh town in particular. In the nature’s fury, over 100 persons including 25 Army jawans also went missing and in view of trail of destructions, the Army with the assistance of para-military forces and State Police started all-out rescue and relief operations. On the instructions of Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, Minister for Defence, A K Antony is personally monitoring the rescue operations and the Defence Secretary, Pradeep Kumar is in close touch with the State administration to ensure coordinated efforts and provide all sorts of assistance. Adequate number of aircraft and helicopters have also been kept available at Kargil, Chandigarh and Udhampur to immediately move to Leh on the request of the administration. While Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah flew to Leh town after the runway was made operational and announced Rs 5 crore for rescue and restoration, Union Health Minister and former Chief Minister of the State, Ghulam Nabi Azad will fly to Leh tomorrow with relief supplies and a team of 140 personnel of the National Disaster Relief Force besides doctors and paramedical staff. The trail of destructions started last mid-night with a cloudburst at Choglamsar area near Leh and flash floods due to torrential rains at many areas of the district. The nature’s catastrophe struck the district at a time when everybody was sleeping after experiencing first spell of extensive loss caused by the flash floods and cloudburst on the intervening night of August 4 and 5. While stretch from Pang village on Rohtang-Leh Highway up to Nimoo on Leh-Srinagar Highway and many villages like Choglamsar, Sabu, Phyang, Nimoo, Basgo and Ney were affected, the Leh town bore the maximum brunt of the natural calamity with several houses, buildings and other establishments getting completely filled up with mud or wiping out in the rains. Before the people and administration could wake up to the prevailing situation, the natural calamity had caused unprecedented damages everywhere. The district hospital was flooded, bus stands flattened and vehicles were seen floating in the heart of town. The communication equipment of BSNL got completely damaged in the flash floods thereby tying the hands of the administration in starting early relief and rescue operations as damage to the telephone exchange rendered all the mobiles and landline phones useless. In the meantime, reports of deaths and destructions started pouring in from all those areas where the cloudburst and flash floods had created mayhem. An official spokesman said that Leh Airport runway got filled up with mud and ATC towers stopped functioning while as hospitals, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp, Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police building, Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) of Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) under the Ministry of Defence besides several hotels, other commercial establishments and unaccounted residential houses suffered extensive damages due to muddy flash floods. Flooded hospitals, flattened bus stands, washed away houses and floating cars amidst echo of wailing people were all that was left after the flash floods. What to talk of road connectivity with Kargil, the road link of Leh town with adjoining villages got completely snapped as numerous culverts and bridges got washed away in the floods. According to the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Naseema Lankar, 120 people were killed and 425 got injured in the cloud burst and subsequent sudden floods. The dead included three Army Supplies Corps jawans and three Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police constables. 'A large number of people are still missing and there is every possibility of the death toll increasing further', she said, adding all the injured persons are being provided medicare in main Army Hospital at Leh and other make shift hospitals where all the civilian doctors were assisting their counterparts in Army. She further said that some foreign nationals have also been affected in the flash floods. 'The Indian Air Force choppers could not be pressed into service from Srinagar and other places due to inclement weather today', she further said. Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda said that 50 CRPF jawans were rescued from the flooded areas. He also didn’t rule out the possibility of death toll increasing further as large numbers of people were still missing and several affected areas continued to remain cut-off. He said that Jammu and Kashmir Police has set up two camps and food and shelter was being provided to nearly 2,000 people. The camps would remain operational till alternate arrangements were made. However, some officers of the district administration pegged the number of missing person to over 100 including 25 Army jawans. Soon after getting information about the mayhem caused by the cloudburst and flash floods, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in the morning, announced ex-gratia relief of Rs one lakh each to the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to each seriously injured from Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. In his condolence message, the PM said, 'I am deeply shocked to learn the loss of lives and devastation…I send my heart-felt condolences to the members of the bereaved families and wish those injured a speedy recovery. The Centre will do all that is possible to help the State Government and the affected people in the rescue and relief operations'. The Prime Minister also asked the Ministry of Defence to ensure prompt assistance to the cloudburst and flash flood victims. Immediately after he spoke to the Defence Minister, A K Antony, the latter took series of meetings of senior officials of the Ministry, the Services and DRDO. Personally monitoring the situation, Mr Antony directed Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar to be in close touch with the State Administration to ensure coordinated effort for the relief operations. The Army troops immediately activated their Disaster Management Cell and commenced rescue operations on war footing. Over 6000 security personnel were deployed to carry out rescue operations. Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram said, in New Delhi, that 6000 Army and ITBP personnel fully acclimatized to the atmosphere in Leh are there and they are engaged in rescue operations under the overall command of 14 Corps. As the runway of Leh Airport was made operational in the afternoon, the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah flew to Leh to have an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. Accompanied by Minister for Tourism, Nawang Rigzin Jora, who was already present in Leh, the Chief Minister visited the flood-hit areas and spoke to the affected families. He assured all possible assistance for relief and restoration of damages. Later, in a meeting of Group of Ministers at Srinagar, the Chief Minister directed the administration to intensify relief and rescue operations in the region and shift the affected people to safer locations and Government buildings on war footing. The district administration Leh was directed to provide immediate relief including essential commodities and medicines to the affected people and undertake a preliminary assessment of the losses urgently. Mr Abdullah approved Rs 2 crore as ex-gratia to the next of kin of those killed and relief to the injured. The ex-gratia would be paid at the rate of Rs one lakh each. In additional to this, Rs one lakh each would be paid to the next of kin of deceased from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. The meeting also decided to release Rs 3 crore for temporary restoration of public property and services in the district. The Chief Minister also kept Rs two crore each out of Calamity Relief Fund at the disposal of Divisional Commissioners of Kashmir and Jammu to provide immediate relief and undertake restoration work in the flood affected areas. 'Massive rescue operations are underway involving the State police, paramilitary forces and the Army in Leh town', an official spokesman said, adding 'adequate number of aircraft and helicopters are available at Kargil, Chandigarh and Udhampur to move to Leh. Indian Air Force has also opened a disaster management cell at Chandigarh, consisting of three senior officers'. Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad will fly to Leh tomorrow with relief supplies and a team of 140 personnel of the National Disaster Relief Force along with large number of doctors and paramedical staff in an IL76 IAF aircraft for assistance in rescue and relief operations and providing medicare to the injured persons. The reports from adjoining Kargil district said that due to incessant rains, road connectivity of several areas with the district headquarters has completely been snapped and several houses suffered damages. However, there was no report of loss of any life. As collapse of the entire BSNL system in the district was creating problems for the administration in maintaining communication link with divisional administration of Kashmir, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Naseema Lankar approached Airtel authorities and requested them to arrange SIMs on an emergency basis so as to restore communication. Keeping in view the magnitude of the disaster, the Airtel authorities immediately arranged seven SIM cards, activated them and handed them over to Deputy Commissioner Leh. This gesture of the Airtel was appreciated by the Kashmir divisional as well as Leh district administration. Meanwhile, Principal General Manager of the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, R K Koul, when contacted, said that not only the equipment even the building of the Leh Exchange suffered extensive damage and complete restoration of land-line as well as mobile services will take time. 'However, we are trying to make mobile phone service functional with the assistance of Army', he said, adding 'in the prevailing situation, mobile phones are more useful for the administration than the landline'. To a question, he said, 'though it is difficult to work out exact loss at present yet the same would be around Rs 12 crore'.