Residents huddle on rooftops in Kashmir flood disaster

Residents huddle on rooftops in Kashmir flood disaster
A Kashmiri resident is helped onto a raft from the roof of a house during floods in the outskirts of Srinagar on Sept 4.

NEW DELHI - Desperate residents were huddled on rooftops Monday as they tried to survive Indian Kashmir's worst flooding in half a century which has already claimed more than 150 lives and left thousands homeless.

With all phone lines down in the main city of Srinagar and roads cut off, the exact scale of the disaster is still unclear but video footage shot from army helicopters showed entire villages completely under water.

Residents could be seen waving from rooftops while vehicles and livestock were washed away by the flood waters.

Disaster officials say some 350 villages have been submerged since torrential monsoon rains triggered flooding and landslides across the picturesque Himalayan region.

Thousands of troops, police and other emergency personnel, backed by helicopters and boats, have fanned out across the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the state to deliver blankets, tents and other aid in an attempt to minimise casualties, the officials said.

"With some 750 rescue personnel in operations there, our teams have saved about 5,005 people so far," Sandeep Rai Rathore, inspector general of the National Disaster Response Force, told AFP.

"But this will go on for a couple more days or even more because the water level has not yet receded. We have to try to save all human life." The rain-swollen Jhelum river flooded large parts of Srinagar over the weekend snapping communication lines and blocking road links.

Vinod Vishen, a resident of Srinagar's upmarket Karan Nagar neighbourhood, described on Facebook how he had moved his entire family to the top of the house.

"Water rising relentlessly," Vishen wrote, later expressing fears that old houses in the area could collapse.

"Old houses are expected to collapse as water softens up the weight bearing walls. Very very grim situation," he posted.

Although there was no fresh rainfall on Monday, officials say the death toll is bound to rise.

"Unofficially, the casualties are most definitely over 150 right now. This is a flash flood. Thankfully people are not without any help," an official of the National Disaster Management Authority told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured the region Sunday and met top relief officials, describing the situation as "a national-level disaster".

Across the de-facto border in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, flash flooding and house collapses from days of heavy rain have left another 205 people dead and damaged hundreds of villages and houses, officials from Pakistan's national disaster management agency told AFP on Monday.

In a letter to his counterpart Nawaz Sharif, Modi extended his "deepest sympathies" to flood-hit Pakistanis and offered to provide relief assistance.

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