Indian army called out as flooding spreads west

AHMEDABAD, India, Reuters

The Indian army was called out to rescue stranded people and distribute food on Wednesday as South Asia’s worst flooding in 15 years spread to parts of western India and claimed 27 more lives.

More than 1,400 people have been killed, most of them in Bangladesh and eastern India, in several weeks of intense monsoon rains. The rains are now moving westwards, bringing relief to some farmers hit by drought but disaster to others caught in the deluge.

Floodwaters are now receding in the east of the subcontinent, leaving disease and devastation in their wake, especially in Bangladesh, two-thirds of which is still submerged.

In India’s western state of Gujarat at least 27 people were killed in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll in the monsoon season to 151, by landslides and collapsed houses, according to the state’s relief commissioner V.A. Sathe.

In southern India, at least 9 people, including a two-month-old child, were killed in landslides and house collapse triggered by incessant rains on Wednesday, authorities said.

“Earlier people were praying for rains. Now, everyone is praying for the rain to stop,” said Babubhai B. Viradia, a trader in Gujarat’s diamond and textile city of Surat, large parts of which were under water.

The army has been called out in Surat and other cities in low lying southern parts of Gujarat to rescue people and distribute food.

The coastal town of Daman was cut off after a newly built bridge collapsed. More than 400 villages were also marooned in southern Gujarat after four days of rains, and more than 50,000 people have already been evacuated.

“The situation is grim in large part of the south,” Sathe, the Gujarat state official, said. “And the forecast is for heavy to very heavy rainfall in the next 24 hours.”

Gujarat government spokesman I.K Jadeja said more than 70,000 people were packed into relief camps across the state.

Traffic came to a near halt on the arterial New Delhi-Bombay highway that passes through the state. Heavy rains also lashed Bombay, India’s financial hub, halting trains and flooding streets.

In Bangladesh, where flood waters have been receding in the past two days, authorities reported 11 more deaths caused by people drinking muddy flood water and eating stale food, bringing the death toll to nearly 670.

“We are facing an uphill battle to save lives threatened by swiftly spreading diarrhoeal disease,” said one Bangladeshi official at the government’s flood control center.

Authorities also fear an outbreak of malaria and dengue fever — caused by mosquito bites — and skin diseases in flood-hit areas, including the capital Dhaka, parts of which are still submerged.

Fresh rains from Tuesday in some parts of Bangladesh have rekindled fears of more flooding, and meteorologists said more heavy rains could hit later this month.

“People’s hopes for quick relief from the flooding have been dashed by reports that another deluge might hit us around middle of this month,” said Syed Mohammad Afzal, a journalist from Brahmanbaria. “We are passing days amid growing panic.”

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said the floods had cost the country more than US$7 billion, adding the U.N. would appeal to donors next week to support a major reconstruction plan.