Floods put India's harvest in jeopardy

Millions of people have been forced from their homes in what officials in India describe as some of the country's worst flooding for a century in areas that were recently suffering from severe drought.

About 250 people have died and there are concerns about the possible spread of disease with so many people squeezed together into temporary shelters. The flooding, caused by days of unusually heavy rains, has been centred on two southern states, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, swamping millions of acres of cropland and triggering concerns about the impact on the region's crucial sugar and corn harvests.

Across the area relief workers have been using helicopters and boats to drop off rations and plastic sheets to hundreds of marooned villagers, while about 2.5 million people have moved into more than 1,200 emergency camps. Television footage has revealed scenes of utter misery. Up to 350 villages are still cut off by flood waters and the military has been called in to help.

In Andhra Pradesh, workers used 300,000 heavy sandbags to fortify weakening embankments of the Krishna River that flows close to Vijayawada, a city of 1 million people and an important trading centre. Rescue workers have already moved more than 200,000 people living close to the river and an alert has been sounded in about 100 villages situated along the Krishna. "These are the worst floods in 100 years," said Dharmana Prasada Rao, the state's minister for revenue and relief.

The chairman of the country's ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, has undertaken an aerial survey of the affected states. Just a few weeks ago, most parts of the flooded area were suffering from what officials said was the country's worst drought since 1972.