Pressed to meet the growing requirements of rescue operations in flood-hit Jammu and Kashmir the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Wednesday deployed its only operational “flying crane” – the Mi-26 helicopter – from Chandigarh to Pathankot en-route to Awantipur south of Srinagar.
The helicopter carried 12 tonnes of fuel, generator sets, medicine and engineering equipment. This correspondent flew in its first sortie from Chandigarh to Pathankot. Due to a technical glitch, the Mi-26 could not fly to Awantipura but is expected to be in action again on Thursday morning. Six IAF personnel and support staff are on board. This is the world’s largest helicopter which the IAF calls ‘Bheem’. The Mi-26 will carry out rescue operations flying from Awantipura regularly.
“This aircraft was used last year in Uttarakhand and had flown emergency road construction material and repair equipment. We expect it to be available for ground forces operating in J&K,” said Wing Commander S. Vinay Kumar, Senior Technical Officer.
While the water level has started receding in Srinagar, in Wular lake it has risen by six inches. In the middle of it all, the rescue personnel have evacuated close to 90,000 people. But an estimated six lakh more remain trapped. The rescue operations are now being carried out even at night.
Meanwhile, anger filled the streets of Srinagar over “shoddy relief efforts”. Angry residents complained that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was offering excuses that the state government was overwhelmed by the scale of flooding.
While none of his Cabinet ministers was traceable, Omar surveyed Srinagar in a helicopter on Wednesday.
Reports of state government officials being heckled by the residents came from all across Srinagar. Congress leader Saifuddin Soz was chased away by the angry mob when he appeared at one of the relief camps. A National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescue worker was severely injured after he was thrashed by a crowd in a Srinagar locality. The residents wanted to guide the NDRF team to a particular area, but their failure in the complying with the distress call resulted in violent response.
Meanwhile, Army chief general Dalbir Singh took stock of the rescue operations. The Army has increased the number of columns to 239. Nine satellite phones were given by the Army to the state administration and a mobile phone tower was also repaired. The officials said that 38 generator sets with mobile charging sets were shifted to Srinagar for civilians. The Army also managed to set up field hospitals in Awantipur, Pattan and Anantnag. The water level in Badami Bagh Cantonment receded marginally. One of the flood victims, a pregnant woman, delivered a baby after being rescued from Pampore.