September 1, 2008

Floods Affect Millions in India

By The Associated Press

SAHARSA, India (AP) - The deluge came and turned his world to water, so Umesh Kushyaha decided to build a boat.

Kushyaha squatted Saturday hammering nails into his rickety- looking wooden row boat on the side of the road, a lone strip of dry land that cuts across miles of water. He was preparing for what authorities say will be months more of life submerged under floodwaters.

About 1.2 million people have been left homeless and scores have been killed in the impoverished state of Bihar in the two weeks since the monsoon-swollen Kosi river in neighboring Nepal burst its banks, dramatically changing course and spilling billions of gallons of water into the plains of northern India.

Authorities say hundreds of thousands remain stranded after their homes and villages were inundated, clinging to the roofs of houses or whatever dry speck of land they can find. An estimated 3 million residents of Bihar have been affected.

Those who could flee fled, piling their families, goats, chickens and sacks of grain into boats and heading for safety. Some waded for miles through the waters, carrying bundles of their belongings on their heads as they sought refuge.

But as the waters rushed in and flooded more than 750 villages and towns, many were unable to escape. Twenty people drowned Friday when their rescue boat capsized.

By Saturday, some 330,000 people had been rescued, said Prataya Amrit, secretary of the state's disaster management department. Many of them were being housed in state-run relief camps.

But while rescue efforts - buoyed by a $200 million Indian government relief fund - were finally picking up steam, officials warned the flooding was spreading to new areas and the high waters would last for months.

Authorities say the breach in the Kosi embankment is more than a mile wide and growing every day, and they will not be able to fix it until late November, when the monsoon ends and the torrent begins to subside.

"Since they say the waters will be here until the end of October, I'm making a boat," said Kushyaha, a 49-year-old farmer from the badly hit Saharsa district, some 750 miles northeast of New Delhi.

"We will be able to use it to get to the market and come back with supplies," he said.

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