August 28, 2006

Deadly floods in India turn desert area into “sea”

JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Monsoon rains and flooding have
killed at least 130 people in India's western state of
Rajasthan, officials said on Monday, with huge swathes of
desert underwater.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Barmer,
a sprawling district that borders Pakistan and is known for its
sand dunes and widely spread villages. Dozens of people are

"The desert looks like a sea. There is no place where one
can walk," Captain Saurabh Modi, an army officer who is
involved in relief operations in Barmer, told Reuters by

Hundreds of people marooned on sand dunes, surrounded by
over 15 feet deep pools of water, were being rescued by
military helicopters and motorized navy dinghies.

Most of the deaths in Rajasthan in the week-long flooding
were caused by drowning and house collapses.

"Several bodies are being fished out from the swirling
waters," Rajasthan Relief Secretary R.K. Meena said.

A layer of gypsum below the sandy surface is preventing
brownish flood waters from seeping into the ground in the
region, slowing down relief efforts. Gypsum is a mineral used
in the building industry.

"If the flood water does not drain, we will have to
puncture the gypsum layer," said a senior government official.

In neighboring Nepal, at least six people were killed and
dozens of villagers were missing after monsoon flooding and
landslides hit houses, schools and villages across the
Himalayan nation.

Nepal's home ministry spokesman, Baman Prasad Neupane, said
flood waters had seriously hit Achham district, 350 km west of
the capital, Kathmandu.

"About 100 houses have been damaged in landslides in two
villages in Achham district where flood waters also washed away
a small hydroelectric plant," said Neupane.

"Army and police rescue teams have been rushed to the site
and hundreds of people have been moved to safe locations," he
said, adding that at least five people were missing.

In India's Barmer district, hundreds of desperate villagers
scrambled for food packets dropped by helicopters. Many whose
homes have been flooded or collapsed are living huddled in
tents of plastic sheets.

People saved themselves by hanging on to the branches of
trees as flood waters swirled beneath them, TV channels

"I have never seen so much water," Thodi, an elderly woman
with a heavily lined face, told CNN-IBN television. "It has
destroyed everything."

A train service between India and Pakistan that runs from
Munabao in Barmer to Kokhrapar in southern Pakistan has been
suspended because of the floods.

Bodies of thousands of cattle were floating in the flood
waters, causing a foul smell in some areas and raising concern
about the spread of disease.

The Rajasthan government has dispatched several medical
teams to the district.

In western and southern India, hundreds of people have been
killed and millions left homeless since the annual monsoon
rains started in June.

This month's rains in Barmer were the heaviest in at least
three decades, Indian weather officials said.

(Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma in KATHMANDU)