July 3, 2005

Indian troops rescue flood-hit villagers from trees

GARBADA, India (Reuters) - Indian troops on Sunday rescuedvillagers perched in trees to escape swollen rivers in India'swestern Gujarat state where severe flooding has left 127 peopledead and tens of thousands homeless."We screamed out when we saw the soldiers, asking them to saveus," said Deepak Parmar, a laborer in Garbada village, 95 km(59 miles) south of Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city.

Troops saved at least 100 people in Garbada using rubberdinghies. Some soldiers also swam to the roofs of floodedhouses and to trees to bring people to safety.

"The houses were submerged and it was very tough to locateeveryone. Some were found in an unconscious state," ColonelManoj Kumar, who headed the rescue operation, said.

Across Gujarat, roofs of submerged houses could be seenfrom the air, surrounded by vast areas of brownish floodwaters, though levels were receding in many areas on Sunday asmonsoon rains eased.

There are widespread complaints about lack of food anddrinking water and a poor response from state authorities.Prices of milk and vegetables have also soared.

"For the past eight days, we have not got food. Thegovernment has not done anything for us," a drenched andexhausted Ambabhai (eds: one name), a widow whose teenageddaughter is missing in the floods, said in Garbada.

Rescued by the army and placed in a primary school, nowbeing used as a relief center, Ambabhai said once she regainedher strength, she would look for her daughter.

The Gujarat government said it was doing its best.

"Every needy person will be given what they need," Gujaratgovernment spokesman Kaushik Patel said without elaborating.

Air force helicopters had resumed drops of food andmedicines on Sunday after bad weather hampered relief effortson Saturday.

As the state -- one of the richest in India -- struggled tocope with the widespread flooding, businessmen said industrialproduction in many areas had come to a halt.

An official of the Gujarat Chambers of Commerce andIndustry estimated losses were about 20 billion rupees ($460million).

India's monsoon season, which runs from June to September,causes flooding every year, killing hundreds of people.

The monsoon is also causing havoc in neighboringBangladesh. Parts of the capital Dhaka are flooded, cloggingtraffic in the morning rush hour on Sunday, a working day inthe predominantly Muslim country.

The government secretariat and the main commercial centerwas under knee-to-waist deep water, officials said.

Hundreds of stalled vehicles were also disrupting trafficin the city of 10 million, which has a poor drainage system.

About 150 mm (six inches) of rain had fallen since midnighton Saturday and more was expected over the next two days, anofficial at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department said.

Floods killed more than 1,000 people and left about 10million homeless in July to September last year. ($1 = 43.50rupees) (Additional reporting by Nizam Ahmed in DHAKA)