Brushing Its Tears Aside, Army Rushes In To Help
8 October 2005
The Indian Express
Uri: For the Army, this was a day of grief. Thirty six men, including a major were killed, while 83 soldiers were seriously wounded. But tragedy was hurriedly put aside as soldiers trooped out on a major rescue operation, digging through mounds of rubble to save trapped villagers and set up temporary hospitals. The first major jolt hit at around 9.20 am and within minutes, a major portion of the Uri market was on fire. 'Uri was shaken, damaging almost every building. Our own buildings had also collapsed,' said Col Hemant Joneja of Army's 15 Corps. 'But there was a short-circuit and a large part of Uri market was on fire. Our men rushed and doused the fire.' The local police station had collapsed, killing four policemen. The seniormost police officer of the area, Deputy Superintendent of Police Mohammad Yousuf, lost his six-year-old son even as his men managed to rescue his injured wife. The policemen were busy taking out their colleagues trapped beneath the razed building. Then the main hospital too collapsed. 'I took my children and ran towards the Higher Secondary school ground. I saw my wife too who had rushed there,' said Mohammad Ashraf Mir, who lost his father, uncle and two cousins. 'There was hue and cry. Thank God, there is the Army around. They came immediately and then the soldiers helped to rescue more people.' In fact, for the Army, the quake had struck home. Many of its buildings were damaged and they had to rescue their colleagues from the canteen and barracks. 'Our men immediately rushed to rescue the people, took hundreds of them out of the collapsed homes and even helped remove their belongings,' Col Joneja said. 'But once we got a sense of the intensity of the disaster, we increased our efforts.' The army has called their rescue mission: Operation Imdad (help). The first thing was to set up a temporary hospital especially as the local hospital had collapsed. 'We rushed a team of doctors and paramedics from Srinagar and set up a temporary medical camp at Uri,' Col Joneja said. 'We also sent medical stores with first aid and emergency medicine.' But as the news of disaster in dozens of the villages scattered around this hilly terrain started pouring in with the Army's own casualties swelling, nothing seemed sufficient enough. The Army pressed its choppers into service that flew all along the Line of Control looking for survivors. 'I don't have the count of sorties we made. The choppers were flying till late in the evening even after dark. I was myself standing there at the helipad in the Corps headquarters and the choppers were landing even till 6.15 pm,' Col Joneja said. The Army also launched a similar rescue and relief operation in Tangdhar along the LoC in Kupwara district where 53 villagers were killed and 200 injured. Doctors and medical staff with emergency supplies were airlifted from the Army's hospital in Drugmulla Brigade headquarters to Tangdhar. The situation in Uri, however, remained grim as dozens of villages were inaccessible until tonight. The Army sent out 'foot columns' with food packets and drinking water. 'Our boys are expected to reach the villages late tonight and only then we will have some idea of the damage there,' said an Army official. That's not all. The Army also had to clear the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road after major landslides blocked it in several places.