Joint army-air force rescue and relief efforts after the Leh cloud-burst
By Divya Srivastava
Leh: The devastation caused by recent flashflood in the Leh region saw the Indian armed forces working in tandem to provide succour to the victims and to restore normalcy in the minimum possible time.

The flashflood triggered by a series of cloudburst swept away buildings and the army installations on August 5 midnight in the Leh town and the adjoining areas leading to a large number of deaths and destruction. It also led to breakage of roads and bridges, complete disruption of the communication system and the worse of all washing off the civil hospital. The victims also included the foreign tourists in a large number, this time of the year being the tourism season.

Since the magnitude of the destruction was so large, the rescue forces came into action to provide relief, right from the evacuation to the best of medical aid immediately. Rapid action was taken to get the roads and the air base cleared for the transportation, finding the missing people, getting the communication operative, as the BSNL complex was completely annihilated by then. The rescue teams pulled out bodies trapped in debris in the devastated areas and the ones alive were taken to the general hospital (GH).

The air force managed to clear the runway of the air base with the assistance of the army within one day so that the relief equipments, medical supplies and the rescuers could be airlifted. Since all the victims were taken to the GH as the civil hospital was also destroyed, the hospital was soon short of beds but still managed to provide medical aid to victims on time. “We can cater to only strength of 200 patients and the family ward has just 10 beds, therefore, accommodating the sufferers had become next to impossible. Initially, the first day the people were lying on the floor where we started providing the first aid as at that time giving first aid was the priority and not the place where it was to be given,” the Brig. med of the corps Brig. Dutta told FORCE.
When asked about the number of specialists and staff being limited and subsequently the methodology adopted for tackling a calamity of this magnitude, he told us that, there were nursing assistants sent from the other units of the area. “By 6th evening things were a little under control and then started a problem when the patients after gaining consciousness started looking for their people and this resulted into a major panic.” In order to calm down the patients in the hospital, a scrolling display on the entrance of the hospital featuring the pictures and names of the people within the hospital was put up so that they could be identified by their family members who are searching for them. “This move turned out to be successful to quiet an extent. Other than the medical aid, personal attention and basic needs, the hospital provided the victims with fresh juices, nutritious food and clothes.” The administration block of 153 GH was also affected and there was a breakdown of power. Since the number of patients was large and the treatment had to be given at the earliest, GH was provided with six high output generators. Since the onslaught of the cloudburst had a severe effect on the communication system, the BSNL landline and mobile connectivity was completely disrupted.
To overcome this, the communicators from the corps of signals worked overnight to restore the communication. The INMARSAT was installed at the district collector’s office which provided the first satellite connectivity from Leh to the outside world. Later, the connectivity was boosted by landline through army exchange. “Withstanding the fury of the nature, our officers have worked overnight to restore the communication for the commanders to be in contact with the formations and troops,” said the Chief Signals Officer Brig. T.G.S. Kumar. Even when the whole connectivity, to the outside world was down, it was the signalers in the army who managed to provide internet connectivity to the media, through which news and videos were uploaded and subsequently aired in real time. The various branches of the army did not restrict themselves to their area of expertise and extended help in whatever way possible, so did the signals where they provided not only shelter to the affected but also provided packed food, blankets, clothes, medical aid, and in case of emergency escorted the victims to the 153 GH.
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