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'Before I Could React, They Were Gone': 7 Dead, 19 Missing as Flash Floods Wreck J&K Village

Widespread devastation in the flash floods in Honzar village of Kashmir's Kishtwar area where 7 people were killed and 19 are missing. (Pic credit: Ababeel volunteers)

Widespread devastation in the flash floods in Honzar village of Kashmir's Kishtwar area where 7 people were killed and 19 are missing. (Pic credit: Ababeel volunteers)

A torrent triggered by a massive cloudburst tore through seven of the about 20 houses situated in Jammu and Kashmir's Honzar village.

Pieces of wood, roof, metal and destroyed houses have been tossed hundreds of metres away from where they stood once in Honzar — a village in the Kashmir Himalayas that was wrecked by deadly flash floods this week. The torrent triggered by a massive cloudburst tore through seven of the about 20 houses situated in this hilly Kishtwar village, killing seven people. Around 19 villagers are missing even as 20 were rescued by the police, volunteers and locals. The rescue mission is in full swing though no missing person has been found in the past 24 hours.

Witnesses speaking to News 18 said on Tuesday night the small village stream swelled to dangerous proportions after a cloudburst tore through the area, flattening seven residential structures, a school building and a store. The intensity and the momentum of the torrent took the structures downstream along with the people, before settling into a massive mountain of debris.

“The villagers told us most of the missing would be buried here," Syed Imran, who volunteers for Ababeel, a philanthropic group based in Chenab Valley, told News18 after visiting Honzar. Imran had led a team with relief to the village but found out that the area was inaccessible through the road and sans communication.

“More Ababeel volunteers are bringing in food and tents today. We could distribute only blankets yesterday," he lamented, adding that the topography of the village was challenging and rushing relief will take time.

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Imran drove from Kishtwar for 50 kilometres through a narrow dirt track before abandoning his vehicle. Next, he started to climb up a mountain for five hours before reaching the village. “When we reached the village, we were shocked to see the widespread wreckage. The villagers were struck with grief and could barely react out of shock. They must have spent a horrific night, seeing a lot of relatives and neighbours disappear in the rampaging waters," he said.

The government has announced five lakh rupees as compensation for the families of each deceased and 50,000 rupees for those seriously injured while intensifying rescue and relief operations.

Asif Iqbal Naik, the first journalist to reach the spot, said he was taken aback by the colossal destruction and shock of the village. “There is hardly a family that has escaped the weather fury. Everyone is hoping the missing, believed to be dead, are pulled out of the debris or downstream," he said.

Naik said the speed of the gushing waters was terrifying even though the flow had subdued a bit by the time he reached the village. “But getting here was quite a tough proposition since it takes five hours to trek 15 kilometres in slippery conditions," he said.

Mohammad Jabbar, a witness, said he saw walls of water rise from the stream and toss the houses like straw. “Before I could react, they were gone. I escaped because the stream diverted its course at the last moment," he told Naik, looking relieved.

Both Imran and Naik say it will be difficult to retrieve the missing in the absence of earthmoving machines. “But how will they bring them here," they wondered.

The flash floods also struck down 21 cowsheds, washing away a lot of cattle. A number of walking bridges laid across the river were torn down by the fast and furious waters.

The meteorological office in Srinagar warned that the danger of the floods and mudslides has not waned yet even though both the cities of Jammu and Srinagar saw an improvement in the weather. But the hills follow a different pattern. “It gets clear in one minute and packs up the next," said Imran.

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first published:July 29, 2021, 17:21 IST