Death toll 165; 400 to 500 still missing; government, NGOs will have to redouble efforts
It will be an uphill task for the government to restore normality in this mountain town, devastated by the flash floods which have claimed 165 lives so far. Hundreds are still missing.
The government as well as non-governmental sector will have to redouble efforts to at least restore a semblance of normality since the tourist season will end in a little over a month.
Power supply has been restored partially and water is being supplied through tankers by the ITBP and other sources since all the streams are full of mud. The bigger challenge is reaching the missing, whose numbers vary with each passing day. With the return of people in some areas, the government had concluded that it was going down. Two days ago the State-run Doordarshan had put the number of missing at 800. However, in the past 48 hours the number is still a high 400 to 500.
According to the locals, in Phyung area alone 300 labourers are missing but this is yet to be confirmed by any official.
However, officials admit that the number runs into hundreds. Rescue teams are struggling through the mud to reach affected villages. “Unless and until we reach each affected village we cannot say how many are dead or how many have survived. It is a difficult task,” an official said. On Tuesday also over 6,000 Army personnel, besides men from ITPBS, Jammu and Kashmir Police continued with their efforts to clear the debris.
The immediate problem the survivors will be facing is shelter since it will take time for the places to dry up. Only after this can reconstruction work be taken up. The torrential rain has flattened villages, reducing them to slush. There is hardly any clue where the houses stood before August 5, when the cloudburst hit the town and adjacent villages.
“There has to be some temporary arrangement for rehabilitating the homeless,” said an NGO worker who has been busy helping with the rescue since Friday. The Army and the Police have set up relief camps but those would be inadequate for the harsh Leh winter.
Rescue efforts are complicated because the majority of buildings in Leh are constructed using mud bricks and mortar. Finding bodies beneath the flattened debris is hampered by the slush. Local people are extremely traumatised and fear more landslips and flooding.
Meanwhile, NGOs have also issued appeals for relief to help the flood victims. The NGO ‘Save the Children' fears that the toll could climb to over 1,000 going by eye-witness reports. Several villages surrounding Leh town remain cut off from the rest of the State.
According to officials, it will take at least 5 to 6 years to rebuild Leh and it would require special Central assistance. The district has just a Rs. 71-crore plan outlay and is being supported under some Central schemes. Meanwhile, even as Srinagar city and other parts of the Valley remained calm on Tuesday, the body of 17-year-old youth was found in a rivulet, triggering massive protests. With this the toll in the violence in the Valley since June 11 has gone up to 52.