Massive Evacuation as Millions Hit by India Floods

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Agence France Presse

Massive Evacuation as Millions Hit by India Floods

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A flood-affected woman watches from inside her makeshift tent at Madhepura town in India's eastern state of Bihar August 29, 2008. Villagers were eating uncooked rice and flour mixed with polluted water in an eastern Indian state, officials said on Friday, as hunger and diseases accompanied the worst-ever floods in 50 years. The Kosi river burst a dam in neighbouring Nepal earlier this month and surged into Bihar state, swamping village after village as authorities failed to evacuate millions on time. (Reuters/Krishna Murari Kishan/India)

PATNA, India - More than 300,000 people trapped in India's worst floods in 50 years have been rescued but nearly double that number remain stranded without food or water, officials said Saturday.

About 60 people have died and three million have been affected since the Kosi river breached its banks earlier this month on the border with Nepal and changed course, swamping hundreds of villages in eastern Bihar state.

"Large-scale evacuation will continue till all the marooned people are rescued in the next three to four days," disaster management official Prataya Amrit told AFP.

The government said the situation was unlikely to return to normal for months and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) voiced fears about illnesses breaking out at congested relief camps.

"We will have to provide food and shelter to the survivors until October as they will not be able to return home," the state's disaster management minister Nitish Mishra told AFP.

The government has set up more than 100 shelters, but officials said nearly 600,000 people were still waiting to be rescued.

The floods have caused extensive damage and disruption to roads, water and electricity supplies in the affected areas, UNICEF said.

"Essential commodities including food are now being transported by boat," the UN body said in a statement.

In New Delhi, a home ministry statement said 84 boats and five helicopters were being despatched to Bihar to ferry people to safety.

"More army personnel and medical teams have been sent to the affected districts with tents, rubber sheets, medicines and water purification tablets," a home ministry official said.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Nepal, where thousands of Indians seeking shelter from floods in Bihar have also migrated.

At least 15 people died and some were still missing after an army rescue boat carrying flood survivors capsized on Friday.

Soldiers were facing problems tracing possible survivors because of strong currents, disaster management official R.K. Singh said.

A family trapped on a tractor for several days made desperate pleas to be rescued as flood waters rose steadily around them, the Indian Express newspaper reported.

"We have been stuck here for the past 10 days with no rescue team reaching here. Our food and water stocks have run out. Our mobiles (phones) are working, but they too will fail any moment," Laxmi Singh was quoted as saying.

Survivors at relief shelters said they were not getting anything to eat.

"We have absolutely nothing with us here. We left everything behind," one woman at a crowded relief camp told NDTV news network.

Premier Manmohan Singh has described the situation as a "national calamity" and announced a relief package of 228 million dollars and 125,000 tonnes of grain.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon has sent condolences to the families of victims.

"The Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the loss of life and damage to property in Bihar, due to flooding," his office said in a statement.

The Kosi, which flows into the Ganges, is known as the "River of Sorrow" due to its record of disastrous floods during the monsoon season.

More than 800 people have been killed in monsoon-related accidents following the heavy June-to-September rains across India.

Bihar officials said the death toll could climb further as many areas were inaccessible.

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