Social media links stranded families in flood-hit Kashmir

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A Kashmiri family walks through the floodwaters in Srinagar on September 10, 2014.  Anger mounted over the slow pace of rescue operations in Indian Kashmir as officials said they were "overwhelmed" by the scale of deadly flooding that has left hundreds of thousands stranded in the Himalayan region and neighbouring Pakistan.  AFP PHOTO/ PUNIT PARANJPE
A Kashmiri family walks through the floodwaters in Srinagar on September 10, 2014. Punit Paranjpe/AFP

By Penelope Macrae

NEW DELHI (AFP) – Social media is playing a key role in linking up families and friends hit by the most devastating flooding in more than half a century in mountainous Indian Kashmir.

The floods have swamped the main city of Srinagar along with hundreds of villages, knocking out phone networks and destroying roads.

More than 450 people have been killed in India and neighbouring Pakistan, while hundreds of thousands remain stranded.

With some areas of Indian Kashmir still cut off, social media updates are being used to try to get the information out, and in some cases plead for help.

“Just heard from someone at residences near Govt Quarters Jawaharnagar. No rescue boats, no food for 2 days. Pls send help,” said one tweet.

Kashmiris, both inside and outside the state, have been linking up through Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to give information about locations of loved ones and about rescue efforts.

“Hey Raheel I just got the news about ur family… she conveyed the message that ur family is ok,” said one post on Facebook Wednesday.

Google India spokeswoman Paroma Roy Chowdhury told AFP that social media has become hugely important in disaster situations “because the most important thing in social media is speed — response and speed of action.”

“Social media plugs the gap there.”

“People are waking up to the potential of social media in emergency situations and as Internet penetration only increases in countries like India, the rescue response can only increase,” Chowdhury said.

Another person asked in a Facebook post, “Can anyone help in finding the names of the people rescued from KURSU, RAJBAGH?”.

Another Facebook post listed medical items needed such as “Bandages, Cotton, Gauze” while others listed details about when roads might open.

In both countries the hashtag #KashmirFloods has been trending on Twitter. Some Kashmiris were calling for help, looking for kin and friends or alerting potential rescuers to the plight of others.

India’s National Disaster Response Force has teamed up with Google to upload data to the search engine that can be accessed by anyone looking for someone or who has information about a person.

The Indian army has been posting on its Facebook page names of those rescued, saying: “We are aware you (are) anxious to know about the information of your near and dear ones.”

India’s mobile penetration has been increasing by leaps and bounds in the last few years, although Internet-equipped smartphone growth has been slower.

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