x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Relief but no respite for flood victims

More people forced out of homes as rains lash north-east.

GUWAHATI, INDIA // Air force helicopters flying missions in between heavy rainstorms dropped supplies to flood victims in north-east India yesterday as the number of displaced rose to 1.7 million.

Nineteen of 27 districts in Assam state have been hit by floods and 13 people have been killed over the past week, according to the latest figures from the state disaster management authority.

The remote and impoverished state, which was rocked by ethnic violence last month, has been flooded three times this year by the Brahmaputra River, which often breaks its banks during the monsoon season.

Thousands of people in Majuli, a large river island about 350 kilometres from Assam's main city of Guwahati, have fled to higher ground or are crowded onto embankments.

An air force helicopter was seen dropping packets of rice, water, biscuits and baby food on one embankment.

"We just had enough time to pick up some clothes and drinking water bottles before we got onto a boat to reach a highland some distance away," Bhabani Pegu, an elderly resident, told the News Live channel. "There was a breach in the dyke and soon water swept through the village before anybody could react."

Rain is continuing to pound Assam and Arunachal Pradesh state, where the Brahmaputra flows into India from its starting point in bordering Tibet. The number of displaced people stood at 1.5 million on Monday.

According to the central water commission, the river was flowing above the danger level in at least 10 places in Assam and still rising.

A government relief effort is gathering pace to help the stranded and displaced, but is being hampered by the bad weather.

"We have opened more than 3,000 makeshift camps so far across the state," Nilamoni Sen Deka, Assam's agriculture minister, said. "The actual damage caused to standing crops is yet to be assessed, but going by the magnitude it appears the loss would be tremendous."