Millions without housing, clean water after record Indian monsoon season

HYDERABAD, India - Monsoon rains washed away homes, roads and villages in eastern India during the past week, leaving hundreds of thousands of people to drink contaminated flood water and eat snails and tadpoles to survive. At least 150 people died, bringing the death toll to more than 300 since the monsoon season began last month.

Millions of people in three eastern states were left homeless by the rains, which had been typical of India's July-September monsoon season until recent days, when they became extremely heavy. In southeastern Andhra Pradesh state, meteorologists recorded 10 inches of rain - the highest amount in more than five decades.

In addition to the 150 people who died in Andhra Pradesh, at least a half-million were uprooted from their homes. State officials hurried to try and feed nearly 100,000 people who were crammed into government shelters.

Hundreds of wailing people sat on the wet floors of schools and community halls Sunday in Hyderabad, the state capital. They received drinking water and packets of food, but many expressed despair.

''We came out of our flooded house with nothing but the clothes we had on that night,'' said Sunkamma, a 45-year-old woman from Virasatnagar. Sunkamma lost everything, including her most prized possession - a black-and-white television set.

''We have nothing left,'' she said.

The rain washed away thousands of homes and roads, damaged public property and private crops and ripped open 1,600 irrigation tanks. Power was cut off in some areas.

State Chief Minister Chandra Babu Naido described the floods as ''one of the worst calamities to befall this state'' and asked the federal government for a $66 million aid package. The overall damage to the state was estimated at $164 million.

Elsewhere, tens of thousands of people in northeastern Assam state remained stuck Sunday in government camps with little or no access to food, medicine or clean drinking water. The floods have killed 100 people there and affected millions.

The situation was no better in Bihar state in eastern India, where shortages of clean drinking water and food were forcing villagers to eat snails and tadpoles. At least 54 people have died in Bihar and nearly 3.5 million have been displaced from their homes.

Flood waters began to recede over the weekend in Bihar and Assam, but those lucky enough to return home faced a daunting future.

''We are doomed forever,'' said Nabanita Devi, a mother of four. She returned to her village of Hajo, 20 miles west of Gauhati, the Assam state capital, but found that her thatched hut had been washed away. Hajo and its neighboring villages are now just swamps where villagers search desperately for their belongings.

''I have managed to save two of my cows by sheltering them in a boat for a week, besides a few bags of rice which have now become wet,'' said Nurul Amin, a 50-year-old farmer.

''People are drinking flood water which is contaminated and there is urgent need for more tube wells, bleaching powder and purifying tablets to treat the water,'' Solveig Olasdottir of the International Federation of the Red Cross said after visiting badly hit areas in Assam.

The Red Cross has appealed for $3.5 million in aid. So far, Britain has offered $400,000 for Assam.


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