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Bihar villagers desperate as floods spread

PATRAGHAT, India (Reuters) - A boat carrying dozens of flood victims overturned in Bihar, killing at least 20 people and raising to 85 the death toll while hunger and disease stalked the worst-ever floods in 50 years.

A flood-affected woman watches from inside her makeshift tent at Madhepura town in Bihar August 29, 2008. REUTERS/Krishna Murari Kishan

Authorities said the overcrowded army boat capsized in strong river current and 10 more villagers were still missing.

The Kosi river burst a dam in neighbouring Nepal earlier this month and surged into Bihar, swamping village after village as authorities failed to evacuate millions in time.

Villagers were eating uncooked rice and flour mixed with polluted water, officials said on Friday as the rising river waters smashed embankments and flooded vast areas in the state.

More than two million people in distant villages in Bihar have been displaced and around a quarter of a million houses have been destroyed. Many have no means of cooking food.

Floods have killed more than 1,000 people in South Asia since the monsoon began in June, mainly in Uttar Pradesh, where 785 people lost their lives, while other deaths were reported from Nepal and Bangladesh.

Thousands of people, carrying all their belongings on their heads, walked away from their flooded homes through narrow and submerged roads. Many children rode on their cows and buffalos.

“We’ve lost our homes, we’ve lost our clothes, we’ve lost everything ...,” said Bijender, a villager walking along a road with his child.

“We are taking our children and leaving and we don’t even know where we are going.”

Water levels continued to rise amid heavy rains. The water could stay for around three months, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases.

Some experts blame the floods on heavier monsoon rains caused by global warming, while others say authorities have failed to take preventive measures and improve infrastructure.


“My hungry children are crying and we are eating raw rice without boiling it,” said Amit Kumar from Supaul district, the worst-hit by floods this year.

Some are eating corn flour mixed with water to survive.

“I know how villagers are somehow managing to keep themselves alive by eating whatever food is available to them,” Nitish Mishra, the state disaster management minister, told Reuters.

“It is not easy to distribute food to over two million displaced villagers, I know their condition.”

Officials said bad weather and strong currents were preventing them from providing aid to remote areas.

Surging waters have swamped 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of farmland, destroying wheat and paddy crops worth millions of rupees, officials said.

Helpless villagers have grabbed boats, planks or have taken refuge on rooftops to save themselves from floods.

Some set their cattle loose before fleeing as the animals had gone without food for days.

Diseases like diarrhoea were reported from many government-run camps in the state.

“The camps are not organised yet and we are receiving reports of diseases,” said Mukesh Puri of the UNICEF.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party, flew over devastated areas by helicopter on Thursday and announced $228 million in aid.

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