September 21, 2005

More than 1,000 missing after South Asian storm

By S. Radha Kumar

HYDERABAD, India (Reuters) - At least 800 people remained
missing in southern India on Wednesday and hundreds of
fishermen were unaccounted for in Bangladesh after a severe
storm in the Bay of Bengal killed 50 people, officials said.

Indian authorities said about 100,000 people were homeless
after heavy rains this week caused floods in the coastal
districts of Andhra Pradesh state, with strong winds uprooting
thousands of trees and electricity poles.

They had earlier said more than 1,000 people were missing
in the state, including scores of fishermen, but some of them
had returned to shore.

"Of the over 1,000 missing people, 150-200 fishermen have
been traced and are safe," top state disaster management
official Shashank Goel told Reuters.

He said flood waters had started to recede as rains had
eased in the region.

Rescue workers in motorized rubber dinghies picked up
people stranded in floods, while military helicopters dropped
food and water packets to marooned people and lifted them off
rooftops. Thousands were evacuated to relief camps.

"Water entered my house around midnight on Monday. We lost
everything, including our clothes," Samba Siva Rao, a coastal
resident, told Reuters by telephone from a relief camp.

Most of the 50 killed in Andhra Pradesh were either
electrocuted or died in house collapses, officials said.

In Bangladesh, leaders of the low-lying nation's fishing
community said on Wednesday they had not heard from about 300
fishermen after the storm triggered high waves and heavy rain
along the coast this week.

"We are expecting some of them to come back," Kabir Ahmed
Sawdagar told Reuters from the coastal city of Cox's Bazar,
adding that in the past fishermen reported missing had returned
safely weeks after a storm.

But Golam Mustafa Chowdhury, president of the Fishing
Trawlers Association in the coastal district of Barguna, said
31 trawlers with about 450 fishermen sank during the storm and
he feared most of the men on them had drowned.


Other fishing groups said some missing fishermen had
returned and others may have been pushed toward Indian waters.

Storms and cyclones that form in the Bay of Bengal in
September and October slam into India's eastern coast and
neighboring Bangladesh almost every year.

In 1977, around 10,000 people were killed when a cyclone
lashed Andhra Pradesh. Nineteen years later, some 2,000 people
were killed in another cyclone. In Bangladesh, a cyclone left
143,000 people dead in 1991.

On Wednesday, there was no electricity in about 100 towns
and 1,300 villages on Andhra Pradesh's coast where rail, air
and road traffic has been severely disrupted.

With flood waters beginning to recede, most train services
were expected to resume by Thursday, railway officials said.

Cargo handling at Visakhapatnam port -- one of India's
busiest -- had resumed after being suspended for two days due
to the storm.

Hundreds of vehicles were stranded on a key highway linking
eastern India with the south of the country and the airport in
the port city of Visakhapatnam was closed for the second day as
its runway was still partially waterlogged.

Rains had eased in most parts of the state on Wednesday but
its largest river, the Godavari, had burst its bank in several
areas and was threatening to spill over. Officials said they
were worried about losses to sugarcane, chilli and paddy crops.

"Lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of acres of fields have got
inundated," Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Andhra Pradesh's chief
minister, said after a aerial survey of flood-hit areas.