MUZAFFARABAD: The recent cloudburst induced flash flood in Neelum Valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had swept away five young tourists from Punjab, officials confirmed on Thursday, a day after the body of one of the victims was fished out from the river.

The cloudburst had unloaded huge amount of water in Ratti Galli Nullah, some six km downstream of the famous glacial lake, between 5pm and 6pm on Tuesday, partial damaging and destroying some houses, vehicles and foot bridges along its course.

Initially, the officials had stated that five tourists had gone missing but the statement was immediately withdrawn for “having been given due to some miscommunication.”

However, on Wednesday afternoon, recovery of a young boy’s body from the Neelum River at Sandoq Syedan village and a video clip showing two persons being swept by the flooded stream persuaded the officials to revisit their earlier denial of the casualties.

“After we received the video from the villager who had shot it from his elevated house and contacted the jeep driver Amjad, who had brought the victims up to Jabba, a place ahead of which they were struck by the deluge, as well as another local resident Rustam who was also on board the same vehicle, their drowning was confirmed,” said Akhtar Ayoub, valley’s disaster management officer.

According to Mr Ayoub, driver Amjad had told his passengers at Jabba that he could not steer ahead because of the rain and bad road condition. He and Rustam also advised the visitors against going ahead through the vulnerable track amid downpour and swollen water channel and instead asked them to take another comparatively elevated pedestrian track, he said.

However, the boys dismissed the suggestion saying they would hurriedly walk towards the main [Neelum valley] road because they had to reach Islamabad the next morning, added Mr Ayoub.

In the video clip, it can be seen that as the two boys start walking through the track, suddenly huge amount of murky water gushes through the channel from behind them and sweeps them away in a wink.

Mr Ayoub identified the victims as Umair, 20, his sibling Zubair, 17, and cousin Talha Javed, 16, Akmal, 19, residents of Narowal; and Hasnaat Khattak, 20, resident of Mianwali.

Umair and Khattak were stated to be students of software engineering in Comsats Islamabad, their family members confirmed to Dawn.

They had arrived in Neelum valley on the night of August 13 to celebrate Independence Day there. Some of them had also posted pictures with green flags on their social media accounts.

Mr Ayoub said the body recovered from Sandoq Syedan village was of Talha Javed and his family members were on their way to the valley to collect it.

“We have alerted police and Rescue 1122 officials all along the route of Neelum and Jhelum rivers to spot the remaining bodies. Let’s pray we find all of them at the earliest.”

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2022

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