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Floods ravage India's northeast, thousands homeless

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - Monsoon rains swept across India’s remote northeast, forcing hundreds of thousands of villagers from their flooded homes and killing at least 30 people, officials said on Tuesday.

Flood-affected people cross a flooded paddy field in Lakhimpur district, about 400 km east of Guwahati, June 16, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

The monsoon arrived at least two weeks early in northern India, bringing respite to its baking plains, but in Assam it swamped about 500 villages in waist-deep water, leaving about 300,000 people homeless.

Assam accounts for about 55 percent of India’s tea production. Officials said the rains had not affected tea trade.

The region reported the first fatalities from the monsoon with a series of landslides, floods and building collapses killing at least 30 people since the weekend, officials in Assam and neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh said.

The casualties included 13 people who drowned in overnight flooding in Assam.

“The (13) deaths were reported from North Lakhimpur town,” an Assam police official said.

Gushing water also washed away portions of highways and bridges at several places in Assam’s Lakhimpur district, the worst-hit area.

“The situation turned worse because there has been erosion of embankments at 13 places,” said Uken Pegu, an official with the Water Resources Department in Lakhimpur.

Authorities have set up temporary shelters for the homeless, but some complained there were not enough.

Many people camped on highways in makeshift shelters with whatever belongings they could save from the floodwaters.

“Every year people have to suffer and the government wakes up only when there is flooding,” said Ramesh Pegu, a student leader. “There is no long-term rescue and rehabilitation plan for the affected people.”

The regional weather office warned of more showers in the next 24 hours in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.