Heavy monsoon floods displace 19 million people

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The Independent Online

Heavy monsoon rains and floods have killed at least 178 people and displaced another 19 million across Bangladesh and much of northern India, officials said today.

The Indian states of Assam, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, along with neighbouring Bangladesh, were among the hardest hit areas, where incessant rains have caused dozens of swollen rivers to inundate surrounding regions.

"At least 12 people, mostly children and women, died of rain-related incidents in the last 24 hours," Surendra Srivastava, a police spokesman, told The Associated Press in Lucknow, the capital of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

With rivers bursting their banks along the fertile plains south of the Himalayas, India ordered the army to help evacuate people from some of the worst-hit areas. Today, soldiers began to evacuate people from some of the 500 villages under water in Uttar Pradesh, State Relief Commissioner Umesh Sinha said.

Heavy rains also lashed Mumbai, India's financial capital, disrupting traffic and throwing train services out of gear.

Low-lying areas in central and northern Mumbai were flooded with children and residents walking in knee-deep water to reach schools and homes. At least 20 people have died over the past two weeks in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, either by drowning or by being crushed under fallen buildings or trees.

Some 14 million people in India and 5 million in Bangladesh have been displaced or marooned by the flooding, according to government figures. At least 132 people have died in recent days because of the floods in India and 46 more in Bangladesh.

About 100,000 displaced people were staying in government relief camps in Assam, while hundreds of thousands more sought shelter on higher ground, setting up makeshift dwellings. Millions of people have been cut off from the rest of the country.

The floods have destroyed crops worth millions of rupees (hundreds of thousands of pounds) in Uttar Pradesh, Diwakar Tripathi, a senior government official, said yesterday.

The monsoon season in South Asia runs from June to September and is vital to the region's agriculture. But the monsoons are always dangerous; last year more than 1,000 people died, most by drowning, landslides, house collapses or electrocution.

In New Delhi, India's Meteorological Department said unusual monsoon patterns this year have led to heavier than normal rains. "We've been getting constant rainfall in these areas for nearly 20 days," said BP Yadav, a spokesman for the department.

Medical teams were trying to visit different regions by boat to make sure there were no outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera.

On Wednesday, 28 people died when an overcrowded boat evacuating them from their village sank in a swollen river.