Snowfall brings Valley to halt: highways blocked, power, water supply affected

Bashaarat Masood
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An Army chopper rescues tourists stranded during the annual ‘Chadar trek’ on the frozen Zanskar river in Ladakh. (ANI)

AS SNOW lashed the Kashmir Valley, especially north Kashmir, the state administration seemed unprepared, with even the national highways remaining uncleared for two days, bringing most parts of the Valley to a standstill.

It started snowing in the Valley Sunday evening and continued through Monday. Srinagar itself accumulated 10-12 inches of snow, while most other parts of north Kashmir comprising Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipore districts witnessed 3-4 feet of snow. The region witnessed such snowfall after more than a decade.

“The main road to our area has still not be cleared of snow. There is no electricity for three days and no drinking water,” said Mudasir Ahmad, a resident of Qalamabad in Handwara. “This morning, a pregnant woman had to be shifted to Handwara hospital, just 10 km away. She had to be taken in a JCB (excavator),” he said.

While the Srinagar-Baramulla national highway was cleared on Tuesday morning, most other roads in north Kashmir continued to remain blocked for the second consecutive day. Despite the clearance of the snow on the highway, it took four hours to travel a certain distance on Tuesday, which otherwise would normally take just an hour.

When contacted, Fareed Chowdhary, Chief Engineering, Mechanical Engineering Department, said: “This is the first time so much snow has lashed north Kashmir. Our snow plowers are effective only when the depth of snow is less. But for the current depth of snow, we need snow cutters. We have only 10 snow cutters in the Valley, of which seven are in north Kashmir —- three on Tangmarg-Gulmarg road (a stretch of less than 15 km), three in Baramulla and one in Gurez.”

Sources said the three snow cutters in Baramulla could not be used since the operators were untraceable. Snow clearance on the main roads is the responsibility of the MED and that on other roads, of the Roads and Buildings (R&B) Department.

While the roads leading to villages continue to remain clogged, the interior lanes and bylanes of the towns too have not been been cleared. Though electricity in the towns was restored after 24 hours, villages in north Kashmir continue to be in darkness since Sunday evening. In several parts of the Valley, drinking water supply has been snapped.

“I think we have worked very efficiently,” said Chief Engineer Chowdhary. “When there is a snowstorm, what can human beings do? If you want no snow on the roads, we need to allocate one machine for every one-two kilometers. We don’t have that infrastructure,” he said.

An official of the department, however, said they didn’t expect such heavy snowfall. When they took out the machines out in the morning, they broke down. New machines had to be called from Srinagar and south Kashmir where there was less snow.