Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Monsoon floods inundate South Asia coasts

RHINOS AT RISK As much of India waits for rain, areas from Bhutan to Assam have millions of homeless, as well as rare species that fled to higher, drier ground

REUTERS AND AFP , Guwahati, India

Villagers walk through floodwaters yesterday in Samastipur, 100km northeast of Patna, in one of 14 districts in India's Bihar state that reported flooding.


Landslides triggered by heavy rains buried at least 12 people in their homes while six people drowned in surging river waters as floods rav-aged parts of South Asia yesterday.

More than seven million people have been marooned or left homeless in villages and towns across eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh after annual monsoon floods inundated large tracts of land.

Government helicopters brought packages of food and relief material such as tarpaulin sheets to thousands of villagers in Nepal and India where thousands were stranded on rooftops.

Close to 170 people have died in densely-populated South Asia since the start of July as heavy monsoon rains set off landslides and caused dozens of rivers to overflow.

Officials in India's Assam state, where two million people have lost their homes because of flooding, said they found it hard to cope with the sheer scale of flooding.

"The state is not adequately equipped to handle the rescue and relief operations," said Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister who appealed for international assistance on Monday.

People negotiated flooded areas of Assam in boats made from the trunks of banana trees and bamboos, and loaded with clothes and cooking utensils.

In some flooded areas of Bangla-desh, overflowing rivers submerged crops and cut rail and road links, pushing up food prices.

Twenty-five of the country's 64 districts have been hit by flooding and millions marooned. Officials fear outbreaks of water-borne diseases as thousands of drinking wells have been submerged.

Most of the deaths were in Nepal, where 12 people were killed in landslides in the east, pushing to 48 the impoverished nation's death toll from landslides, drowning and snake bites this season. Floodwaters have washed away bridges and felled electrical lines, although in other areas waters were receding.

"Though water levels have fallen, people are scared to return home as they fear their mud and brick houses will collapse," resident Brij Kumar Yadhav said in Janakpur, 450km east of Kathmandu.

The region's monsoon, which has yet to provide good rains to south and central India, is vital for the farm-dependent economies.

About 3.7 million people have been displaced with an estimated 3,200 villages under water, a flood control official said.

The Brahmaputra River, which criss-crosses the state of Assam, was flowing at least 1.5m to 2.6m above the danger level.

"We are trying our best to provide food and medicines to the victims. But then as we all know, it is next to impossible to meet the needs of millions of flood-hit people," Assam Health Minister Bhumidhar Barman said.

Floods and landslides have also hit the neighboring Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where a dozen bridges have been washed away.

Meanwhile, floodwaters Tuesday entered the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, forcing scores of endangered animals to flee.

The 430-square-kilometer park east of Guwahati is home to the world's largest concentration of one-horned rhinoceros. There are an estimated 1,600 rhinos at Kaziranga out of a total world population of some 2,300.

"Herds of elephants, deer, wild buffaloes and rhinos from the park are migrating to an adjoining hill for safety," another park official said.

Park officials said they were also worried about poachers killing animals, especially rhinos and elephants, as the animals move out of the sanctuary.

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