Dozens killed as monsoon rains burst river banks and submerge villages

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The Independent Online

Nearly 80 people have died and more than 1,500 villages are under water because of monsoon rains in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

At least 71 people have died of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and Japanese encephalitis, since the annual deluge reached the state last month. Eight others have drowned or been swept away in overflowing rivers.

On Sunday night, the Brahmaputra river breached several embankments, flooding more than 230 villages across the state, said Nurzamal Sarkar, Assam's flood control minister. "More than 1 million people have now been hit by the floods and 19 of the state's 24 districts have been submerged," Mr Sarkar said.

The number of flood-hit villages had increased to 1,536, he said, adding that the situation could become grimmer if heavy rains continued.

The government has set up dozens of relief camps and thousands of people are living in shelters made from bamboo poles and plastic sheeting.

In the worst-hit district of Dhemaji, food was scarce, said Dilip Saikia, the area's parliamentary representative. Relief officials were giving out just 400g (14oz) of rice per adult a day. Mr Saikia said there was an urgent need to airdrop medicines and essential items, and to rush medical teams to Dhemaji, which has been cut off from the rest of the state since the first floods washed away rail and road links to the remote district.

Dhemaji is about 340 miles east of Gauhati, Assam's capital. On Sunday, floodwaters breached an embankment in the district, submerging about 80 villages, Mr Saikia said.

Monsoon floods are routine in India's eastern and northeastern states, which are crisscrossed by rivers that originate in the Himalayas and flow into the Bay of Bengal.

Five people have also died in the eastern state of Bihar, where floods have displaced nearly 150,000 people.