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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Toll Rising in Monsoon-Related Floods

APA man rowing a boat Saturday near his submerged home in Amlighat, India. Officials are trying to prevent epidemics.
BARABANKI, India -- Torrential overnight rains compounded the misery of 2 million marooned Indian villagers, as the death toll from floods across South Asia rose to at least 289, officials said Sunday.

Helicopters dropped food and the army helped civil authorities carry out rescue operations. They also brought aid to hundreds of thousands of people who had escaped to high ground near national highways and railway tracks in India's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states last week.

Doctors and paramedics started supplying medicine to people on Sunday to prevent diarrhea, skin allergies and other waterborne diseases, said S.K. Gupta, an Indian army officer, who is commanding a unit involved in relief operations near Gorakhpur, a town in Uttar Pradesh state.

At least 39 deaths were reported in Bangladesh and 21 in India over the weekend, raising Bangladesh's overall death toll to 120 and India's to 169, according to government figures available on Sunday.

Some 19 million people have been driven from their homes in the two countries in recent days. The South Asian monsoon season runs from June to September as the rains work their way across the subcontinent, a deluge that scatters floods and landslides across the region and kills hundreds of people every year.

In India, an elderly couple and two of their relatives, who refused to leave their village, were crushed to death when their home collapsed on them Saturday night in northern Uttar Pradesh state, police spokesman Surendra Srivastava said Sunday.

"These four people, all in 70s, were living on the rooftop of their home," he said. Their village, Karonda, is nearly 60 kilometers southeast of Lucknow, the state capital.

"The Saturday night rains [in Uttar Pradesh state] have worsened the flood situation as rising river waters have entered villages forcing people to move to safer places," Srivastava said.

At least 11 people died in Uttar Pradesh state, mostly in house collapses, on Saturday, he said. Another 10 deaths were reported in eastern Bihar state, said Manoj Srivastava, the state disaster management secretary.

Helicopters continued dropping packets of flour, salt, candles and match boxes to marooned villagers in India's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states, officials said.

Meanwhile, fears grew Sunday that epidemics would strike the millions marooned or forced from their homes.

In the eastern state of Assam, where up to 3 million people took refuge in emergency camps or were cut off in their villages, receding waters and soaring temperatures fed concerns of malaria and encephalitis outbreaks.

"We are really worried about the outbreak of an epidemic in Assam now," Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

"The damaged caused by floods this year has incurred a huge loss to properties and human beings."

The last fortnight has seen some of the worst floods in living memory affecting about 35 million people in the region, 10 million of them made homeless or left stranded. Valuable crops have been destroyed as rivers burst their banks.

Much of eastern India and two-thirds of Bangladesh's 64 districts are inundated.

Indian government figures cited by the United Nations Children's Fund say more than 1,100 people have died in this year's monsoon, not including all the latest casualties.

Health workers already struggling to cope with large numbers of fever and dysentery cases fear that, as many people return to rebuild their homes, stagnant water and mud will provide ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Federal ministers would visit Assam on Tuesday, Gogoi said, to gauge the situation after complaints that local officials had moved too slowly to assess the damage and appeal for relief.

"While we never expect a perfect government, the chief minister should have at least taken the trouble to visit the flood-affected areas," Sanjiv Nath, a teacher, said by telephone.

In impoverished Bihar state, four air force helicopters dropped food, medicines and clothing to some of the 10 million affected in the state, where floods have worsened.

"Each pilot is carrying out 12 sorties a day and they have reported huge devastation in central and north Bihar," said Ramesh Kumar Das, a Defense Ministry spokesman in Kolkata.

"I have been dividing one small piece of bread among four of my children, and I have been starving and somehow surviving," a sobbing Siraj Ahmed told a local television reporter in Bihar.

In Bangladesh, 120 people are now confirmed dead, with 39 more drowning or dying from fatal snakebites, said a senior official at the government's flood monitoring agency.

The country's army-backed government has promised an all-out effort to save flood victims but relief efforts were inadequate, officials said.

Political parties have refused to participate, demanding the government end a ban on their activity. (AP, Reuters)