July 2, 2005

Indian troops rescue 350 children trapped by flood

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - Troops in motorboats rescuedaround 350 children from the first floor of their school hostelafter it was surrounded by floodwaters in India's Gujaratstate, where at least 123 people have died in monsoon flooding.

Soldiers and police snatched the students from the firstfloor after the ground floor of the building was submerged inHarup village, 75 km (45 miles) south of Gujarat's main city ofAhmedabad, witnesses and officials said.

"Our prime focus was to evacuate the children and take themto safer places," senior Gujarat government official RajeshKishore told Reuters.

Most deaths in Gujarat's floods have been due to drowning,electrocution and house collapses.

Officials said the severe week-long flooding had left morethan 150,000 people homeless or stranded in their houses in thewestern state. Residents complained of shortages of food,medicines and materials to build temporary shelters.

Heavy rain and thick cloud prevented helicopters fromflying on Saturday, limiting relief operations.

"It is an aerial tsunami," Gujarat Chief Minister NarendraModi told reporters in the state capital of Gandhinagar. Heavymonsoon rains have caused rivers to burst their banks.

Authorities admitted they were being stretched to thelimit.

"The real challenge is to provide food, medicine andclothes to the needy. We are trying to reach out but badweather has prevented us," Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shahsaid.

Further flooding is feared as heavy downpours have beenforecast for the next 48 hours.

Early on Saturday, waters receded in some areas, allowingabout 400 passengers stuck in a train for over 30 hours toleave their carriages. Many walked to higher ground but somehad to be rescued by army boats and local volunteers.


About 90 of the passengers were rescued after a man who, onreceiving a mobile phone message from his trapped wife, droveto dry land near the train and formed a human chain of localvolunteers who stood in the water and brought women, childrenand older passengers to safety.

"It was my duty to help save others, besides my wife anddaughter. The authorities were not doing anything," businessmanRajesh Seth told Reuters.

New Delhi has announced an aid package of 5 billion rupees($115 million). But residents said more needed to be done.

"The situation here does not seem to be improving. We arehelpless and waiting for the water to recede and get back toour normal lives," said S.G. Thomas, whose agriculturalproducts warehouse in Vadodara, 110 km (70 miles) southeast ofAhmedabad, was damaged by flood waters.

Hundreds of factories were shut in the western state,India's second most industrialized, as were schools andcolleges and offices.

"Water has entered my factory. To prevent any mishap, Ihave shut down production till the water level comes down,"said Dhiren Mehta, who owns a textile plant in Ahmedabad.

Authorities were providing drinking water to homelesspeople living in schools and makeshift relief camps on higherground.

Flooding during the June-September monsoon rains in India-- home to mighty rivers like the Ganges and Brahmaputra --kills hundreds of people every year and leaves thousandshomeless.