An account of the Flood Experience in Kashmir valley by the Sisters of Presentation Convent, Srinagar

Presentation Convent Sisters
Kashmir Flood - 2014   Kashmir Flood - 2014
Presentation Convent before and after the flood - 2014

“A single catastrophic event can change the whole lives of the people who otherwise thought to be secure and comfortable with their surroundings”.

From 1st September 2014 onwards the entire State of J&K had been receiving rainfall which was a welcome relief for all as we had high temperature than normal for the Kashmir valley. We heard news of floods in Jammu and southern parts of Kashmir. Seeing the grim situation the Govt. ordered the educational institutions to be closed from 4th - 7th September. We heard that some parts of the city being flooded and our concerned parents, teachers and students dropped in or called to enquire about our safety and well-being as our place is very close to the Jhelum River.

On 4th morning of September, we received a frantic call from one of our office staff saying that their place was flooded. So we invited him and his seven months pregnant wife to the Convent. Due to heavy downpours the schools were asked to close down by the state government till further notice. People were anxious about the rain water flooding lanes, lakes, drains, and the rivers. People living in the banks of the Jhelum River, was anxious about the rising water levels and we who live very close to the river were also anxious to see the water level already crossing the danger mark. We kept a close watch at the water levels and in the evening of sixth September, before retiring to bed managed to stock sand bags to prevent the river water entering into the school grounds.

Anticipating the rising river water we opened the school and the accounts office to take out some of the important documents and disconnected the computers and other equipments and placed them on top of the tables in order to safeguard them.

Kashmir Flood - 2014   Kashmir Flood - 2014

7th September 2014 is an unforgettable day for the Presentation Sisters, and for the people in the beautiful valley.

In the morning of 7th September, the rain had stopped and we were relieved to see the water level had not gone up in the river. With a relaxed mind, we started the chores of the day. As we were about to gather for breakfast we heard the construction workers staying in our compound were running around and shouting that the water is gushing through the back lanes of the Convent. Before we could realize what was happening the gushing waters broke the compound wall behind the school and the water gushed into the ground floor of the Convent. We were caught unaware and did not know what to do for a while. Though panic stricken we sprang into action; two of us brought out the two cows along with their young calves and the dog from the shed, led them to where we thought was a safer place. But before we reached the front of the house the water reached above our knee level. We found it difficult to bring the cows into the school building. With the help of two workers we managed to bring the cows to the first floor of the Nagle block and as the water level rose to first floor we shifted them to the second floor.

Kashmir Flood - 2014   Kashmir Flood - 2014

Meanwhile two of our neighbouring families brought their aged parents and children to the attic floor of the School. Later on two more families with three children were rescued from the roof top and were brought to our place. We were now 23 people in the attic floor. Our three workers remained in the clock tower. Besides, there were about sixty construction workers in the school building that is still under construction.

The Sisters –Selma, Aivona, Asha, Elsie and Lovely from the different corners of the Convent and School, managed to save some important documents, blankets, some food items, gas cylinders, a gas stove and a bucket of water. We managed to wade through the rising water and reached the attic floor and suddenly realized that Sr. Lovely was not with them.

By then the water had reached the first floor of the Convent and the school. When we realized there was a connecting passage from the School to the Convent, we managed with the help of Mr. Jins, our office staff, to break the door and bring Sr. Lovely who was trapped on the first floor of the convent who was trying to bring the Blessed Sacrament and the statue of Mother Mary from the Chapel. As the passage was open, we managed to collect change of clothes and blankets and some fruits which were stored from our garden and the admission forms. Sr. Selma rushed to save the important documents of the Society and brought it up in a suitcase. With a heavy heart we climbed the steps to the attic floor and looked through the windows helplessly, seeing the rising water covering our school building, offices, administrative block, accounts office, our beautiful Chapel and Convent and silently prayed to the Almighty God and to Nano to stop the rising water.

Whole of Rajbagh looked like a sea. All phone connections were snapped. We felt completely cut off and alone. By evening a few local people were rescuing the affected people in a boat. We could hear the cries of people for help. We could see furniture and animals floating on the water. After two days the phone connectivity was restored and we were able to contact our Sisters in Delhi and Jammu. Since electricity was cut off completely from 5th September onwards we had no way of charging our phones which added to the misery.

We realized we had sufficient things to keep us alive. We borrowed some rice and dhal from our construction workers and cooked and shared it with all those who were with us. Everyone appreciated whatever was available and ate one meal a day. On the third day Baba, the man who looks after our cows managed to reach the attic through a makeshift bridge.

Since we had the cows kept in a class room, it survived on cooked rice and some water. The cow man milked the cows every day and served it to the hungry children and the elderly people.

None of us complained about anything and were happy and satisfied with whatever minimum we could get. In the evenings, we sat down to pray the Rosary and our Muslim and Hindu brethren who were with us also joined us in prayer and experienced peace.

Kashmir Flood - 2014

Losing our valuable belongings were an act of surrender for us. But God had his own way of providing things for us. A freezer full of soft drinks landed in our campus floating. One of our neighbors managed to collect some of those soft drinks from it which the children enjoyed. We understood the real meaning of the prayer “give us this day our daily bread” and God heard our prayer and provided sufficient things to keep us alive. The drinking water was getting scarce.

The Leadership was constantly in touch with the Army Vice Chief, Philip Earnest who is the brother of one of our retired teachers in Delhi, requesting him to send their Army personnel to rescue and provide our sisters with food and water.

On the third day the army traced us and provided us with drinking water and shared their own ration with us. On the fourth day our Sisters at Jammu send things through the army and they dropped them on the roof which our construction workers were able to get and they enjoyed the same. We tried to use minimum water and save whatever little we had.

As the water began to recede we managed to clean the first floor of the Convent and the computer labs. At least we could get some change of clothes for us and our neighbors which were saved from the water.

Kashmir Flood - 2014   Kashmir Flood - 2014

Our salute to the Indian Army who took a lot of trouble to rescue us and the people who were trapped in houses and hotels by boats and helicopters and reached them to the Airports and the Army camps where they were given food and drinking water. Our heartfelt thanks to Army Vice Chief Philip Earnest and Capt. Pradeep for their heroic venture.

It was Providential that the floods came on a Sunday and not on a working day and therefore we were free of students, Staff both teaching and non-teaching in our school compound. We were particularly worried about our non-teaching staff as most of them are migrant workers with no home of their own. Fearing the epidemic and no food and water, the Leadership asked us to leave the Valley and come down to Jammu which we refused in the beginning thinking about the people staying with us.

Slowly the Army evacuated our neighbours who were with us into their relative’s homes as there was a threat of epidemic. Now we felt free to leave the valley.

Living seven days confined in the attic floor surrounded by water was a God experience for each of us. Our prayers were from the heart, from a space of helplessness and utter faith in God. Our hope was still alive and our sense of humour never left us. (A hallmark of Presentations!) We know that our sisters, families and friends were very worried about our safety as we could not connect with them for two days. Since there was no electricity recharging of our mobiles were not possible. In the midst of adversity our creativity came alive and found a way of recharging our mobiles through UPS. Thus we were able to connect with our sisters and through them to our families!

In spite of all odds the Army displayed their bravery and commitment to rescue people and reached us again on the seventh day. We were brought out by the Army in a boat and a parent of ours who himself lost his belongings reached us to the Technical Airport. From there we were air lifted to Jammu by the Indian Air force along with hundreds of migrant labourers.

Srs. Stella and Molly were eagerly waiting for us at the Airport. We felt at home and safe after seeing them from a distance itself. As we reached the convent at 11.30 pm, we found that how excited the sisters were to see all of us safe and sound, who fondly welcomed us.

The next day of our arrival at Jammu, Sr. Lizzy, the Unit Leader and the North Circle Leadership Team reached Jammu to be with us and we spent quality time talking about all our experiences and planning further to carry out the relief work.

We thank our dear sisters specially our Leadership at all levels, families, friends and well-wishers from all over the world who prayed continuously for us and our people in Kashmir. All of us kept well and we found strength and courage to face this unexpected ordeal. Once again we thank you for your prayers, messages, phone calls and all the help. We request you to continue to keep us and our people in Kashmir in your prayers as we struggle to rebuild our lives anew.