x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Indian monsoon floods kill 81 and leave two million homeless

The worst monsoon floods to hit a remote northeastern Indian state in a decade have killed more than 80 people and forced two million to leave their homes.

An Indian Air Force helicopter on a rescue mission in the flood-affected areas of Assam.
An Indian Air Force helicopter on a rescue mission in the flood-affected areas of Assam.

GAUHATI, India // The worst monsoon floods to hit a remote northeastern Indian state in a decade have killed more than 80 people and forced two million to leave their homes, officials said yesterday.

Nearly half a million people are living in relief camps set up across Assam state, the prime minister Manmohan Singh said in Gauhati, the state capital. The rest of those displaced have moved in with relatives or are living in the open, sheltering under tarpaulin sheets.

Assam officials say 81 people have died in the past four days. Most were swept away when the Brahmaputra River overflowed its banks and flooded villages. Sixteen people were buried in landslides triggered by the rains and at least 11 are missing in six districts, the state disaster management agency said.

Air force helicopters are dropping food packets and drinking water to marooned people, Mr Singh said after surveying the flood-hit districts.

Army soldiers are using boats to rescue villagers from rooftops of flooded homes and teams of doctors have opened health clinics in the 770 relief camps that had been set up across Assam, one of India's main tea-growing states. The hilly tea-growing areas have not been affected but lower rice fields have been washed away.

Thousands of cattle have perished after being swept away or getting stuck in the mud. The stench of rotting animal carcasses was adding to the woes of people in tents at the relief camps, officials said.

In the worst-hit Dhemaji district, raging waters of the Brahmaputra swept away whole villages. Officials said the entire Majuli island, one of the world's largest river islands, was awash as water levels rose above the danger level.

"This is one of the worst floods to hit Assam," Mr Singh said as he announced the national government would give immediate assistance of 5 billion rupees (Dh330 million) to the state. He also announced 100,000 rupees compensation for each family who lost someone in the floods

Railway employees were working round the clock to restore train services disrupted after railway tracks became submerged in flood water.

"Restoration of the railway line is a priority," Mr Singh said.

Much of the Kaziranga National Park, known for its one-horned rhinos, was under water, forcing animals to move to higher ground. Poachers have already killed one rhino that strayed from the park and took its horn, foresters said.

"We are passing through a challenging time," said Nilamoni Sen Deka, Assam's agriculture minister and official spokesman.

Officials say the situation was expected to improve over the next few days as the rain was tapering off and water levels were starting to recede.

Monsoon floods hit Assam, which has a population of 26 million, almost every year, with heavy rains swelling the Brahmaputra and its innumerable tributaries.