Violent winds leave trail of destruction in Kashmir, one dead

Srinagar : One person was killed and 17 others were injured as violent winds wreaked havoc in the Kashmir Valley Tuesday leaving thousands of people without power supply amid smashed rooftops, uprooted trees, snapped electric lines and toppled poles, prompting the government to sound high alert.

A state government spokesperson said the windstorm which started Monday night and continued Tuesday without respite claimed its first victim in north Kashmir Ganderbal district when 50-year-old Muhammad Maqbool Magray died on the spot after a Chinar tree fell on his house crushing him under it.

Seventeen more people were injured in different parts of the valley due to uprooted trees, rooftop collapses and other windswept incidents, the spokesperson said.

He said 29 residential houses were completely destroyed.

“At least 8,852 buildings including 2,166 residential houses, 10 houseboats, six government offices, scores of shops, cowsheds and other structures have been partially damaged,” the spokesperson said.

As fears run high amid street rumours that it was a prelude to “qayamat” or the end of the world, old timers said they had never seen anything like this in the Kashmir Valley, nestled between lofty Himalayas and the Pir Panjal range of mountains.

“This is never seen before… Not as long as I remember. People may be right fearing that it may be the end of the world. The judgement day may be near,” Mohammed Abdullah Sofi, a Srinagar resident in his late eighties, said when asked if he had seen such a strong windstorm hitting the valley.

But the government officials said they expected weather conditions to improve by Wednesday.

“We are expecting the weather to improve from tomorrow (Wednesday) morning,” Aamir Ali, officer on special duty at the government’s divisional headquarters, said .

Most people in the valley preferred to remain indoors as strong winds reaching upto 60 km per hour speed left roadways strewn with debris.

Police said three tourists had a miraculous escape when a pine tree collapsed on a tourism department hut in south Kashmir Pahalgam hill station. The tourists were safely rescued.

People in Srinagar’s Lal Bazaar and New Theed areas, located across the banks of Dal Lake and where the damage was the worst, maintained states of emergency amid specially called prayers in mosques.

Dozens of houseboats on the Dal Lake were also damaged and police rescued over two dozen tourists from inside the lake.

Scores of poplar trees lining the roads and highways were uprooted snapping inter-district road connectivity in south and north Kashmir areas.

Muhammad Muzaffar Mattu, top power department official said that “massive damage” has been caused to electric poles, transmission lines and transformers.

“Although our power import supply lines are intact, restoration of the damaged transmission systems will take some time. We have moved everybody out on restoration work.”

Authorities ordered closure of all public and private schools in the valley.

Kashmir University authorities decided to suspend classes after a tall, centuries old chinar tree collapsed inside the Chinar Bagh complex of the varsity.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah flew from Jammu to Srinagar in the morning to make on the spot assessment of the damage caused by the windstorm.

Fear was palpable here as wild rumours went round the valley. Unfounded rumours said an even stronger windstorm would lash the valley March 30.

The divisional administration has dispelled these rumours and asked people not to pay heed to them.

All the government district headquarters have been converted into emergency control rooms to meet any eventuality.

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