Kashmir flood relief operation 'too slow'

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Media captionSanjoy Majumder watches as many families try to recover their belongings

Anger is mounting over the pace of the rescue effort in Indian-administered Kashmir, as the authorities admit they have been "overwhelmed" by the worst flooding in half a century. In the main city of Srinagar, the river level remains so high that residents have been forced to live in the open. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder finds people struggling to cope as they wait for aid to reach them.

From the air, Srinagar looks deceptively serene.

Bright blue skies greet us, the green valleys lit up in the morning sun. No sign of massive flooding or overflowing rivers.

All that changes as soon as you hit the ground.

There is chaos just outside the airport and on the road leading to it.

Hundreds of people are camped here, some of them stuck after having arrived but unable to get into the city.

Others, mainly tourists, are trying to get a flight out.

As we drive away from the airport, we see columns of people heading out of the city, carrying their belongings on their head.

"They are migrant workers, mostly from Bihar," our driver Parvez tells us.

"They are trying to get out, but most of them are poor so they don't have the money for a ticket."

Image copyright AP
Image caption The scenes of disaster threaten to get worse in Srinagar as the rains keep coming
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Evacuation by road through flooded streets in Srinagar has been sporadic
Image copyright AP
Image caption In Kashmir, residents have waded neck-deep though floodwaters with their belongings.

Street chaos

As we head towards the city, we are turned away.

"The road ahead is submerged," some people shout out. "Turn back."

The roads are chaotic as well, filled with people, traffic and small pick-up trucks with young men on board distributing relief material.

Using side streets, we head towards the city and eventually get to the neighbourhood of Mehjoornagar.

On one side of the road, a tributary of the Jhelum river flows by, the water level still very high and the currents extremely rapid.

The car can go no further, so we start walking.

The road is bursting with people, mostly sitting around or standing.

It is precarious because one side of the road has collapsed completely.

Several vehicles, including a minibus, have been overturned.

Searching for relatives

"We've been here for several days now," Meraj, a boatman, tells me.

"Look at what's left of our homes."

I look to where he is pointing - the entire neighbourhood is submerged, the water as high as the level of what would have been the first floor of those houses.

A few people are using boats to navigate their way, trying to go home to retrieve their belongings or, in some cases, looking for missing relatives.

"Everything is gone, finished," one man says, holding a toddler in his arms.

"My mother - I don't know if she's alive. I haven't had any news of my younger brother or, for that matter, his wife."

More people crowd around, shouting to be heard.

"There's no food or medicine here, our children are sick," says one.

"No one from the government's visited us," says another. "Only some volunteers, local villagers who are sending us food.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The air force has been using helicopters to drop relief supplies and evacuate people they can reach
Image copyright AP
Image caption Other parts of Kashmir are still inaccessible even though the rains are easing off

Waiting for help

Occasionally a relief truck comes by. People surround it, reaching out with outstretched arms for bread and bottles of water.

"If they hadn't come here, we would have died," says one elderly Sikh man.

A military helicopter hovers overhead, drawing curious glances, and then moves away.

"They've gone to help the rich and powerful, not us," says a young man angrily.

Another person contradicts him. "They've done a good job, the military. Not the local government, or the politicians but the men in uniform."

In some parts of Srinagar, some telephone services have been restored and power is back.

Many other neighbourhoods remain cut off and the wait for help continues.

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