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J&K Floods: 2 L people rescued, J-K gears up for lurking health emergency

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Srinagar (Sept 14, 2014): With the threat of disease outbreak lurking in flood-ravaged Jammu and Kashmir, efforts have been initiated on a war-footing to provide medical staff and medicines even as rescue operations were slightly hampered today due to return of rains in the Valley.

Armed forces and National Disaster Relief Force have rescued over two lakh trapped people as the operations entered the 13th day today. Over one lakh people are still marooned after the worst floods in the state in a century unleashed a trail of death and destruction, claiming at least 250 lives.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan took a detailed review of the health-related relief measures at a meeting with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah here and senior officials and said all assistance will be provided to the state authorities to tackle any possible epidemic.

Though the flood waters have receded, the filth that has accumulated across the Valley, including carcasses of animals, along with lack of clean drinking water posed a serious challenge to health authorities which have issued advisories, rushed doctors, paramedics and medicines and were carrying out mass immunisation against measles. The Centre has also been sounded to dispatch more assistance.

Mild rainfall occurred in many parts of the Valley this morning, stalling air operations for a couple of hours.

As it struggled to reach all the stranded people, the IAF helicopters have also encountered problems of stone pelting in some areas while rescuing and airdropping relief material.

One helicopter was hit by a stone, prompting the force to change its strategy after which choppers maintained a safe distance from the ground.

"We understand that people are angry. Even in a family, sometimes children get angry. But we are there to help out," Air Vice Marshal Upkarjit Singh said.

Two battalions of Armed Police have also been airlifted from Jammu to Kashmir Valley for maintaining law and order.

Police department has restored its communication system in flood affected areas of Srinagar city.

The Chief Minister said that 60 per cent power supply in Kashmir division, 85 per cent in Jammu region has been restored. He also directed concerned departments to double the ration supply to the Valley.

Private telecom operator Aircel, which has 2.1 million customers in Jammu and Kashmir region, said it has restored its 2G services in most part of the Valley.

Aircel's 2G services are operating in Anantnag, Shopian, Bandipora, Kulgam, Pulwama, Srinagar, Budgam, Bonigam and Ganderbal. Aircel 3G services are also up and running, it said in a statement.

Road connectivity to the flood-hit Kashmir Valley has been restored from the Leh region following concerted efforts of Indian Army Engineers and the Border Roads Organisation.

Goswami said that rescue teams focused on the inundated city of Srinagar and the south Kashmir belt. He said that 7,200 blankets and 210 tents have been distributed among flood -affected people along with 42,000 litres of water, 600kg of biscuit, 7 tonnes of baby food and 1,000 food packets.

Additional water bottles are being airlifted from Delhi and Chandigarh, he said.
With a view to providing speedy medical aid to the flood victims, 80 medical teams of the Armed Forces Medical Services, too, have also swung into action.

Helicopters and aircraft of Indian Air Force have so far airdropped 563 tonnes of relief material, Goswami said.

Army has set up camps where people who have had been just evacuated are kept for 12 to 24 hours before being transferred to relief camps set up by the state government.

Lt Gen. Saha said, "Water level is not significant in Baramulla as it is at just 3ft... We are taking precautionary measures in conjunction with state police and others."

Officials said that the situation in Jammu belt has stabilised and the focus is now on providing relief on the ground. Two more units of army and NDRF were airdropped to Pancheri in Udhampur where 30 people are missing after a landslide hit the area.

Meanwhile, the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi shrine in Reasi district was going on smoothly with over 25,000 people having offered prayers there since yesterday. Helicopter services were also restored today to the cave shrine.

With the state administration slowly finding its feet, Chief Secretary M I Khanday has asked government employees to report to duty as soon as possible and help restore services.

The message was read out on Radio Kashmir with the anchor saying "if you don't pay heed to this appeal, please listen to your conscience".

The devastating floods in Jammu and Kashmir have caused an immediate loss of Rs 5,400-5,700 crore to the state's economy, with heavy damage to trade, hotels, restaurants, horticulture and handicraft, according to initial estimates of industry body Assocham.

The state was staring at massive reconstruction efforts, starting with steps to prevent health emergencies that usually accompany such calamities.

Thirteen tonnes of water purifying tablets and six water filtration plants with a capacity to filter 1.2 lakh bottles per day have already reached Srinagar, an official said.

"Our focus is on provision of medicines and water- purifying medicines like chlorine and lakhs of chlorine tablets have been distributed. We have asked municipalities to activate the sanitation system. Our primary concern is rescue and provision of food, prevention of diseases and epidemics is our priority," Saleem-ur Rehman, Director, Health Services, said

With civic bodies almost defunct over the past two weeks due to the deluge, people of flood-hit Kashmir have started burning heaps of garbage gathered in many parts of the Valley

"We do not know how long it will take the government and other concerned agencies to start getting into action.

"There is a strong possibility of epidemic outbreak even in areas not affected by floods due to accumulation of the garbage," Bashir Ahmad Khan, a resident of Baghat, said.

Similar efforts are underway in Rawalpora, Rangreth and Hyderpora areas on the outskirts of the city.

Officials said suction pumps and other engineering equipment from Vishakhapatnam have also reached the flood affected area for. Twelve sewage pumps from Delhi have also been dispatched to the Valley.

Also, thirty generator sets of 3 to 5 KVA capacity have been sent to Srinagar to provide continuous power supply in relief camps and field hospitals

Besides these, as many as 8,200 blankets and 1,119 tents have been provided to the flood victims.  80 medical teams of the Armed Forces Medical Services are already operating in full swing.

Four field hospitals have been established in Avantipur, Pattan, Anantnag and Old Airfield and they have treated more than 22,500 patients.

Military medical services from Bathinda have also been shifted to Srinagar. About 10 tonnes of medicines and other health care materials, including mobile oxygen generation plant, have reached Srinagar from Delhi.

More relief materials, including blankets and tents, water bottles from IRCTC and food packets, are being airlifted from Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Amritsar.