At least 16 people have been killed and a quarter of a million people displaced from their homes after heavy monsoon rains lashed eastern India, officials said yesterday, as the air force joined rescue efforts.
The latest deaths in West Bengal came a few days after 11 people were also killed in the state as the torrent of water swept away homes and triggered landslides.
Flooding and landslides are common during India’s treacherous monsoon season from June to September and causes widespread devastation.
The annual downpours have been worsened by climate change, experts say.
Two river banks were breached and flooding affected at least half a million people in six districts in West Bengal over the past two days, the state’s Disaster Management Minister Javed Ahmed Khan said.
Five of the 16 people killed were swept away in the flood and the rest died when their mud houses collapsed, officials said.
Dozens of people were plucked from the rooftop of a submerged building with military helicopters, including a 100-year-old woman and a nine-month-old baby, Khan added.
Panicked residents had to flee for higher ground after water from a nearby dam was released, causing sudden flooding.
“We fear scores of people are still marooned. Indian Air Force helicopters and disaster management personnel are struggling to rescue them,” he added.
Villager Samir Nandi, 65, said he had “never witnessed such a flood”.
“Many people in (my) village took refuge on the roof of the buildings and they are waiting to be rescued.”
Authorities have set up more than 40 relief centres for the displaced in the flood-affected districts, senior state official Harekrishna Dribedi, said.
This year’s monsoon, which had earlier inundated the western coast, has claimed the lives of at least 250 people so far. Last month, at least 200 people died in the western state of Maharashtra after landslides sent torrents of mud onto villages.
The northern Himalayan states, including Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, have also reported several deaths.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has directed ministers to keep a tab on the rescue operations and see that relief materials reach all affected people, a senior government official said.
During a Cabinet meeting held at the state secretariat, Banerjee directed ministers to be present at their respective districts and oversee the relief and rescue operations.
Over 100,000 tarpaulin, 1,000mt of rice, thousands of drinking water pouches and clean clothes have been sent to the rescue shelters for those affected, the official stated.
“We have not yet estimated the loss incurred due to the flood. As of now, our sole priority is to rescue the affected,” he said.
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