Just two days ago, Leh was humming with life, tourists dotting the roads, hotels occupied and people counting on more prosperity. But on Saturday the J&K town wore a desolate look, with smashed houses, broken cars, flesh and debris — tell-tale evidence of Friday's ravage caused by flash floods and mudslides.
Though 130 bodies have been recovered, more than 500 people are still missing and it is feared they might have died. Some suggest that the number could be higher at 800. Old Leh town has been flattened with mud, with no clue to where the houses stood. The debris is being cleared fast.
Bemoaning the destruction, a young man Tsering sobs: “We have nothing. We lost four of our relatives, houses and all we had. Where will we go?” Cries and shrieks have become the order during past 36 hours in Leh and adjoining villages. People are desperate to know about the welfare of their near and dear ones, though the administration is leaving no stone unturned in helping them. It is chaos in hospitals, where the injured are groaning in pain, as also worry over the fate of their kin.
“I just heard a deafening sound over my head and after that I can't recollect anything,” said a woman. She feared that the rest of her family was dead.
Hotels and restaurants are deserted and the tourists shattered, many of them joining in the rescue work and some leaving in panic.
“This is the season of tourists. But now many have cancelled bookings” said hotelier Mohammad Yaqoob. Officials said over 100 tourists were trapped on the Leh-Manali road and efforts to rescue them were on. Some others are trapped in the town. Additional flights from Delhi are likely to fly the tourists back home. Over 3,000 tourists were in Leh on Friday.
It is just debris all over in the worst-hit Choglamsar, just 5 km from here, and other villages. “It is doomsday here. Everything has perished,” said Choglamsar resident Abdul Aziz. Not only locals but also people from other States like Bihar have been injured or are dead. Nine labourers were simply washed away along with their tents near Leh were washed away. “They perished right before me,” Kumar of Gopalganj said in hospital.
Rescue teams are finding it difficult to reach the people who are either trapped or dead, as road links are severely hit. “Roads have simply disappeared, bridges and culverts were washed away in torrents of rain,” T Angmoo a resident, told The Hindu . Sources said many children were feared dead.
“Communication, first priority”
With authorities restoring the roads in Leh, the focus shifts to connectivity of villages. “Communication is the first priority as we need to reach out to the missing people,” a top Army officer said.
Road connectivity between Leh and Kargil has also snapped. Many bridges have been damaged as rainwater, in the aftermath of the cloudburst, is running at 40 miles per hour, posing a threat to not only Border Roads Organisation personnel but also the surviving roads.