Surviving the wrath of Jhelum

On Saturday September 06 like most people of Jawahar Nagar, Prof Khurshid Ahmad Bhat did his routine office work and returned home. He took a stroll on the bund to see the level of floodwaters in the flood spill channel adjacent to his locality. He returns his home and gets busy to pen down his research paper.

At 11:30 pm he goes to the bed but 15 minutes later his daughter knocks his door informing him that her friend had told her to vacate the house and floods are certainly going to drown Jawahar Nagar.

“I trounced that suggestion,” says Prof Khurshid, “There was no way that our area would get submerged. We had no history of floods.”

Fifteen minutes later something bothers Khurshid and he calls his friend about the flood situation. He told him that danger is lurking. “At 12:30 midnight I get a call which confirms that water is seeping inside the colony. I start to move lightweight things toward second floor. I was under this impression that water will be of few inches.”

At 6: 30 am water was inside their house. “We could see that water was gushing toward our colony. The flood water kept increasing its pace and the first storey got submerged in 45 minutes,” says Khurshid.

Stranded on rooftop for two days

The family of three brothers with 17 members including aged parents, who require oxygen in times of cold weather, were inside the house.

“I was measuring the water level when I heard a creaking sound. I realised that walls have developed cracks,” says he.  The 50 year old building was sure to collapse and people had to evacuate from the structure otherwise there was no chance of survival. “I never thought our house would give up. At least not the mainwalls that hold the inside portion of the house,” says Khurshid.

“I peeped outside my bedroom window and decided to move toward the annexe. Fortunately annexe’s rooftop was near to my bedroom. We put our aged parents there and then asked other members to join them.”

Prof Khurshid’s neighbour also joined them on the rooftop. Now they were 20 people stranded on the rooftop of the annexe that was held firm by the wooden frames. It was Sunday September 07. All the 20 people were trapped on the rooftop and shouting for help.

“We saw army boats come and rescue their own men. The choppers were hovering but they were only rescuing army men stranded in Habib hotel. They also rescued other community people but did not pay heed to our yelps and beseeching,” he says disconsolately.

You know the most killing thing is when fellow humans do not respond to you. The army people in the boat went in front of us rescuing other community people but did not utter a single word to our pleas. It was killing,” says Khurshid.

“At least if army men had talked and said no it may have balmedus. When you are stranded all alone on rooftop and doubting how long it will hold you it nearly metastasizes ones senses. We showered uncouth words on army personnel even then it failed to generate any verbal response. They were like statues,” says the professor of business and financial studies.

As they lost hope of any rescue Khurshid along with his brother grabbed everything that floodwater brought toward them. “Me and my younger brother Nasir are good swimmers. I made a jugaad boat and put myself in it to test it. It toppled the moment I sat in it. Upto 3:30 pm on Sunday our mobiles were working and were able to communicate and beg for help. Nothing came our way.”

As they were stranded on the rooftop their neighbours house started to collapse on sideways. “While our house was getting caved in as if someone has taken the kernel out while keeping the nut intact, but to see our neighbour’s house collapsing was horrible,” says the professor as he shows me the place where they had spend two days and one night.

Restless and keen to move their aged parents toward safety the three brothers along with their neighbours were thinking ways to evacuate them. On the rooftop there were 5 children and 4 women among the 20 people.

Then they see jugaad boats with civilian rowing them. They plead for help but are turned down. “I think they had much more emergency situations to deal with than us. Finally a volunteer boat came and told us that only five people could be taken. We told them to drop them at the Kashmir Government Polytechnic building. At least it was concrete building. It took them just couple of minutes to reach there,” says Khurshid.

They were hopeful that volunteers would come again and rescue. But they didn’t. They were now 15 persons struck on the rooftop.

Brother perilously hangs on a tree trunk

It was at this time that Khurshid’s younger brother lost patience and decided to make some arrangements for the rest of the people.

“Nasir fastened two drums together,put some straps and told us that with the help of cable wire he will get everyone to safety. He rowed less than two metres when his boat toppled. I know he was a good swimmer but the water was too cold for any swimmer to swim,” says Khurshid.

As Nasir’s boat got topsy-turvy Khurshid was mannequined at the rooftop. Before death would take Nasir napping he got hold of a tree branch and dragged himself toward it. 

Befuddled Nasir sat on the tree trunk shivering with cold. Nasir talked balderdash and was repeatedly saying that he is feeling drowsy. It was a dangerous situation. Khurshid asks his brother to swim back to the rooftop. He refuses. “I provoked him many times to swim but when he said he has lost all the will, I was stunned to silence,” Khurshid recalls.

“I was worried about Nasir getting hypothermia,” says he.

Then to keep Nasir away from sleep all the family members plod him with distractions. To every distraction that they try to keep Nasir awake he retorts, “ I feel sleepy.”

Then the September 07 night descended. Khurhsid along with three members of neighbouring family and 11 members of his clan were on the rooftop. His ageing and ailing parents were in KGP building while one brother was hanging on the tree trunk. “If the other family was not with us I don’t think our senses would have worked sensibly. Together we kept communicating with Nasir and my ailing parents throughout the night. Time looked like floodwaters spread all over and refusing to pass out,” says the Kashmir University professor while clearing the rubble from his collapsed house.

During the night they also saw army boats rowing the waters but they again ignored their pleas.

Drinking floodwaters to quench thirst

Next dawn started with a foggy weather. The stranded people begin to assess their position. Both the houses had collapsed one within and one exteriorly. “My worry,” says Khurshid, “was that if the outer walls of our house collapsed it will take the annexe, where we had taken refugee, with it. We were also wondering if the suspended roof of our neighbour’s house fell down it will churn us into a certain death.”

Nasir was still suspended on the tree trunk when they saw an army boat. “This timewe begged them passionately to at least help Nasir and rescue him. The irony is that they rescued him but put him on the same rooftop where we were stranded,” Khurshid says with heavy breath.  “We asked them at least give us some water to drink if they can’t rescue us. They remained unmoved. Not uttering a single word and moved away.”

On receiving Nasir they quickly removed his clothes and let the sun heat warm his body. The warmth of sun and heat of the roof tin sheets brought Nasir back to his senses.

But the heat and continuous yelling for help also raised the problem of thirst among the members. With troopers refusing to give them a droplet the stranded people had to find a way out to keep themselves alive.Then using nous they decided to use floodwater. “We got a empty bottle and put floodwater into it. Our neighbour told us that the silt in the water will not only go down but the sun heat will also help to clean it from many germs,” says the KU professor.

After just 10 minutes Khurshid sees neighbour’s songrabbing the bottle and gulping the whole water. “ I was astounded and told him his recklessness would cost his life,” says Khurshid. But the youth told him, “ Uncle with this flood water I will get diseased but at least will live for couple of days. Without water I will die of thirst,” he recalls solemnly. “Then we did a bit of improvement. We filtered floodwater using our shirt as a sieve and quenched our thirst.”

Volunteers rescue them

On September 08 a couple of volunteers took 10 more people out from the rooftop. “We waited for our turn but it didn’t came.”

In the evening after magrib prayers they hear a noise of water being rowed and correctly guess that some people are on the boat. “We shouted for help and they replied back that don’t worry we will rescue you. But after 10 minutes there was no sign of them. We again shouted this time, they said: don’t panic we are coming to your rescue but our boat has got struck,” says KU professor.

“Then the volunteers came and told us that only three persons can be rescued at this time,” he recollects vividly.

As they were planning who will be left behind one of the volunteers quizzically asked for a cigarette.

“The man asking for the cigarette enquired if we knew swimming. I nodded my head. Then he said all right get everyone in the boat. With the mercy of Allah we will row you toward the safety,” says Khurshid.

As they were rowing the boat one of the volunteers told them that he lives in Mehjoor Nagar and is a fruit vendor. “Then he told me a maxim which I will never forget,” says Khurshid. “You are the people who used to click pics of our misery when floods swept our homes. Now realise how it feels if I take pictures of your disaster while ignoring your plight.”

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