Rivers submerge villages in South Asian flood misery

Rivers submerge villages in South Asian flood misery

Surging floods inundated scores of villages Sunday across northern India, claiming lives, washing away homes and crops and driving fearful residents onto their roofs to pray.

The Ganges and other swollen rivers burst their banks in Bihar state where around 10.8 million people are already marooned in their homes, reeling under the worst monsoon rains to hit South Asia in decades.

At least 1,400 people have died since June and millions of others have been left homeless as the rains combined with glacial snow melt from the Himalayas to wreak havoc from southern Nepal via northern and eastern India to the delta nation of Bangladesh.

Some people in Bangladesh and Nepal have begun returning home as the rains eased off, but in India alone the death toll has now reached 1,120, officials said.

In the Bihar village of Rajkhand Katonjha, hundreds of people sheltered on rooftops as Bagmati river submerged their mud-thatched homes.

"We're offering the prayer of the dead as we don't know what will happen to us," said one of them, Sudhir Prasad, while elsewhere children lay listlessly in their own diarrhoea with no medical help.


Another villager, Ganomotia Devi, fed shreds of cloth to a calf hauled onto the rooftop. "It's better we die quickly," she wept.

The air force said it was stepping up relief operations across impoverished Bihar, where floods have destroyed nearly 70,000 houses and washed away crops worth tens of millions of US dollars.

"Almost all rivers are flowing above the danger mark but what worries us is the discharge of a large amount of water from nearby Nepal," relief department spokesman Shreesh Dubey said in the state capital Lucknow.

State chief minister Nitish Kumar said he was deploying his senior cabinet colleagues in flood-hit districts to speed up rescue and relief operations.

A flood control room official said dozens of rivers continued to rise. The toll in Bihar has reached 91 deaths.

In Uttar Pradesh, where officials say 125 have died, a government spokesman said 2,400 villages had been cut off.

More fatalities have been reported in the states of West Bengal and Assam, which border Bangladesh.

However, there was some good news in Assam where people began to return to their homes in all but one district as rains eased off.

State relief minister Bhumidhar Barman said there had been no fresh reports of floods since Friday, "although thousands of people are still taking shelter in makeshift camps with their villages filled with mud and slush."

He told AFP more than 70 percent of the 5.5 million who had been displaced had now returned home.

According to a Central Water Commission bulletin, the Brahmaputra River has receded below the danger mark.

The 2,906-kilometre (1,816-mile) river -- one of Asia's longest -- traverses Tibet, India and Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

In Bangladesh, at least 39 more fatalities were reported overnight, mostly children who drowned in the swirling waters, raising the overall toll to 120, government spokesman Shachindranath Halder said.

More than eight million people were displaced or marooned in Bangladesh and more than half the districts in the north, centre and east submerged at least in part.

More than a week of floods have completely damaged nearly 100,000 mud-built or tin-roofed houses with the residents now at government shelters, he said.

In Nepal too, flood-displaced people were slowly returning home as monsoon rains began to ease.

"People have started returning to their villages but relief programmes are continuing," home ministry official Ishwar Regmi told AFP.

About 270,000 people have been affected by the monsoon in Nepal, mostly in the southern plains area bordering India. Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula flew to the area Sunday morning to inspect relief camps.

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