August 8, 2006

Floods Maroon Thousands in Indian Cities

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - Swirling floodwaters inundated several towns and cities in western and southern India on Tuesday as the military deployed helicopters and boats to help hundreds of thousands of marooned people.

Nearly 200 people have been killed in flooding due to incessant rains over the past week in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Flash floods triggered by torrential rain have also killed more than 140 people in neighboring Pakistan's northwestern region, submerging hundreds of villages and causing extensive damage to property.

Indian television pictures showed waist-high water in the streets of Surat, the main industrial town of Gujarat and the nerve-centre of India's flourishing diamond polishing trade.

Roadside kiosks and temples were submerged and water lapped at the walls of multi-storey apartment blocks.

"I am not able to reach my house. It is completely submerged in water," Ajay Bania, a Surat resident, said by phone.

Over 200,000 people have been shifted to safer ground in the Surat region as water entered villages and low-lying areas.

Hundreds of industrial units have been shut down and schools and colleges closed in Surat. Rail and road traffic remained suspended.

In neighboring Maharashtra, heavy rains over the last four days have killed 77 people, mostly in the state's east and north, and destroyed crops and homes.

"About 15,000 people are being evacuated and taken to safety by army and air force personnel. We are sending them rations," D.K. Sankaran, Maharashtra's seniormost bureaucrat, said.

Television images of Nanded and Nasik towns in Maharashtra showed vast areas covered in sheets of water with only a few trees standing.

In Andhra Pradesh, the death toll due to torrential rain over the past five days climbed to 106 on Tuesday with 12 new deaths reported from across the state.

Officials said they were concerned about the threat of infectious diseases as water had stagnated at many places. Nearly 1,200 villages were marooned and 1.5 million people displaced in eight districts, they added.

More heavy rains were likely in the state due to a depression over the Bay of Bengal, and Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress party was due to visit the area on Wednesday.


In Pakistani Kashmir, a woman and her four children were killed when a landslide triggered by heavy rains fell on their house near the earthquake-devastated town of Muzaffarabad.

In southwestern Baluchistan province, flash floods hit over 30 villages, washing away crops and houses and killing livestock.

"There are some villages where more than half of the population is badly hit and they have no shelter, food or livestock," provincial government spokesman Raziq Bugti said.

Around 12,000 people have been marooned and about 300 houses were washed away in Baluchistan's Sibi district. Many cases of snake bite have also been reported from the flood-hit areas.

(Reporting by Rupam Jain Nair in AHMEDABAD, Krittivas Mukherjee in MUMBAI, S. Radha Kumar in HYDERABAD and Abu Arqam Naqash in MUZAFFARABAD)