Parminder Singh carefully lifted one of the bloated bodies from his boat as he described the horrors confronting Indian Kashmir residents after the worst floods in a century.
After days of trying and with waters receding, Singh finally managed to return to his house in Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar on Tuesday, but his heart sank on arrival.
“My house was collapsed, gone, and I saw limbs floating under the debris,” a pale and shaking Singh said as he placed the body, one of two he had discovered on his trip, on an embankment.
Singh, a businessman, said he was not at home in the neighbourhood of Jawahar Nagar when the floods hit on September 7, destroying buildings and leaving his family fighting for their lives.
“I tried very hard to find somebody to help but the officials said: ‘What can we do? We are helpless ourselves’,” he told AFP.
Singh did not want to talk in detail about his family, whose fate is unknown, but a friend pulled out a postcard-sized photo of Singh’s two children no more than five-years-old.
Army and other emergency officials have battled to rescue tens of thousands of people stranded by the floods, triggered by heavy monsoon rains, that hit the northern Himalayan region and neighbouring Pakistan.
More than 450 people have been killed in both countries and hundreds of villages submerged including in the Kashmir Valley, the centre of an insurgency against Indian rule of the disputed region.
The waters have now receded, revealing broken homes, mounds of rubbish and dead animals.
The stench of rotting carcasses is overwhelming, and doctors fear an outbreak of disease from the dirty waters left behind.
On a boat ride through Singh’s Jawahar Nagar suburb, residents who have refused to leave their partly inundated homes called out for medical supplies and fresh water. Dogs, left on the roofs of flooded homes when their owners were evacuated, howled.
Elsewhere in the normally picturesque city of one million people, at least three shallow graves were seen on embankments.
A girl’s high school in the Hyderpora area has been turned into a relief centre, staffed entirely by residents and Kashmiris who have flown into the region to help, with no government officials in sight.
“In a day I removed 30 (dead) dogs, one horse, two cows and six truckloads of garbage,” said volunteer Bilal Bhat, who has been trying to clean up his neighbourhood, after gaining use of a boat.
Several hundred people are sleeping in the courtyard of the school, and were receiving basic medical assistance, water and other relief.
Swati Jha, with aid group AmeriCares, said the greatest fear now was an outbreak of disease, adding the stagnant waters must be pumped from the city to prevent this happening.
“The most urgent need is to clean the water and burn the carcasses. We are looking at diseases like cholera and typhoid,” said Jha as she and other doctors pored over a map in a bid to try and reach hard-hit villages outside the city.
Authorities have been accused of moving too slowly to help stricken residents since the disaster unfolded, with some rescue officials even attacked by angry residents.
The state’s top official, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, has conceded authorities have been overwhelmed by the scale of the floods, which he said were the region’s worst in 109 years. SAPA