At 9.30 pm on September 6, last year, I was adding last minute details to lead story about looming flood threat in Kashmir.
Amid rumors of water submerging several areas of Srinagar, I was trying my best to include only officially confirmed details.
That moment, our newsroom was empty as most of my colleagues had left early. The last call I made from office was to Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control Javid Jaffar.
"Situation is grim as water level is increasing fast. Water has started to enter some areas of Rajbagh," Jaffar responded in choked voice.
In the meantime, I heard some shouts from adjoining Abiguzar locality that Jhelum water was gradually spilling over the bund. I hurriedly finished the story and left in haste towards my house at Dalgate. On way, chaos and confusion prevailed as people mostly shopkeepers rushed towards Lal Chowk to shift their goods to safer places.
As I reached my house, I received a call from senior editor Arshad Hussain informing that Jhelum was gradually entering Shivpora through a breach. I advised him to immediately shift his family to safer place. But before he could respond, and the call was disconnected.
Around 1 am, I received distress calls and text message from friends and relatives about water entering their houses at Rajbagh and Gogjibagh. I could not muster courage to tell this to my family members thinking they would panic.
At 3.30 am, I received a call from an official of Lakes and Waterways Development Authority informing that Jhelum had gradually started to spill into Chuntkul near Gaw Kadal.
I spent sleepless night—frequently gazing at our blooming garden to find any traces of floods. After sunrise, few feet of water had accumulated at Sonwar road. Within few moments, water level started to increase, spreading to Ram Munshi Bagh chowk.
There was commotion and people gathered near the revered shrine of Hazrat Syed Yaqoob Sahib (RA). Some women broke down and prayed for safety of their relatives.
Fearing for the safety of my colleague Arshad Hussain who lives in interiors of Shivpora, i started to wade through knee deep waters. Suddenly, there was a deafening sound. Water from Amar Singh Club side gushed to the road. For some moments, it seemed like it was a horrific dream.
Shell-shocked, I could hardly move from the spot. Gathering composure, I ran towards Dalgate side and reached to an elevated stretch near Jan Bakers. Till then, the Jhelum had fully made its way into Srinagar highway through Shivpora. The force of the water was such that it tossed a maruti car with a concrete embankment of Chuntkul, main outflow channel of Dal. Now, Jhelum had changed its course and was flowing into Dal through Chuntkul.
After few moments, Doonga boats in Chuntkul collided with each other. As I ran towards my house at Dalgate, Jhelum waters damaged navigation gate near Biscoe Hut.
The 320 meter long viaduct over Chuntkhul also began to shake. There were cries all around. Several houses along the Khonakhan road started to develop cracks. With fast rising water level, it seemed the end was near—just a collapse of the viaduct away.
On reaching my house, the garden was submerged. My younger brother Adil was shifting goods to upper storey. He had parked our cars at an elevated portion of main road.
Sensing gravity of the situation, I asked my cousin to immediately shift my female family members to my grandfather's house in Gagribal. As water level kept rising to waist level, I and my brother tried to save as many household goods as we could.
When water level touched our chest level in our house, we decided that it was time to save lives . We hurriedly left in cars to our uncle's house at Zakura. But I could not sleep for even a second there. Regretting to leave my house, constructed by my late father with his hard earned money, I decided to return. When i and my brother reached Nowpora bridge, we were shocked to witness the road under five feet of water.
I suddenly found my brother wading through the flood waters. After an hour of anxious wait, my brother returned saying only our ground floor has been submerged. On advise of our uncle Abdul Hamid Wani, we returned to his Zakura house. Next day, we again reached Nowpora and I also crossed over the flooded road.
I, my brother and uncle Ghulam Nabi entered the house from verandah. That night, we heard some noises from backyard of our house. Some people boarding the boats were trying to enter the house. After we raised an alarm, they escaped in the boat as we watched helplessly. We appreciated collective decision to return to the house, at least to save goods in upper floor from theft.
My day began watching flood waters recede by inches while food items in the house started to gradually diminish. Our aged domestic help fondly called Aziz Kaka, knew the art of cooking tasty food without mandatory spices. But more than food, it was the reducing water levels that raised my spirits. In between, sorties of choppers hovered over our locality. Some people chased its trail but these flying machines ended up dropping food items in a nearby camp of paramilitary forces.
Sitting on verandah my flooded house, I spotted my colleague Mudasir Ali waiving towards me from submerged main road. He had walked all the way from Chanapora just to check my whereabouts. Shouting at each other, we inquired about well being of families and colleagues. After exchanging gestures, Mudasir left as chest high flood waters separated us.
As water level reduced to few inches, It was painful to see damage to recently renovated walls, windows and doors of ground floor of my house.
It was after a week that seemed more than a month that I decided to venture outside my house. But it proved to be an arduous task. Due to muck left over by the flood waters, it took me around 10 minutes to reach the main gate of my house. Suddenly, a vehicle stopped in front of me.
"Good to see you are fine. I expect you to resume duty and do stories to highlight sufferings of people due to floods," said my Boss, sitting in the vehicle.
After few days as I went to resume my duties at our new office at Rangreth, passing through posh Raj Bagh and Gogji Bagh areas. I was shocked to see luxurious cars upside down, palatial houses reduced to debris and household goods scattered on roads.
Observing the scale of destruction in these posh localities, I realized how lucky I and my family were, by Almighty Allah's grace, to suffer less damage given the massive magnitude of the floods.