Thousands rescued from swirling floodwaters (Roundup)

June 19th, 2008 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 19 (IANS) The spectre of hunger looms large in parts of flood-affected eastern India even as thousands of marooned people in the region have been rescued from the swirling floodwaters, officials said Thursday. The armed forces and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) also swung into action Thursday to assist the authorities in their relief and rescue efforts by evacuating marooned people and dropping food packets in areas that have been cut off by the floods.

In Orissa, thousands of people are going without food in flood-hit Balasore district as the swirling waters have made it impossible for the administration to reach the marooned villages, officials admitted Thursday.

On the plus side, some 40,000 people in the state have been moved to safe places.

In West Bengal, where nine people have died in the floods so far, air force speedboats have rescued 80 people.

In Jharkhand, the floods triggered a blame game, with Chief Minister Madhu Koda blaming neighbouring Orissa for opening the gates of dams that led to the inundation of parts of steel city Jamshedpur.

In Uttar Pradesh, floodwaters have entered seven villages in Lakhimpur Kheri district after the Soheli river’s embankments collapsed following incessant rain for the past week. A flood alert has been sounded in 32 districts of the state, an official said Thursday.

About one million people in north Orissa have been hit by the floods with rivers breaching their banks following five days of incessant rains. Balasore is one of the worst hit districts with 800,000 people affected and hundreds of villages still inaccessible.

“We could not manage to reach thousands of victims due to the disruption of road communications and the under-currents in the water that make it difficult for boats to ply,” Kulamani Mishra, a relief official, said from Balasore.

He added that 849 villages in the district were cut off for the last two days. “There have been at least three breaches in the national highway 60 that goes through the region and we are not able to use the road to send relief.”

About 200 boats had been deployed, including 150 “country boats” which were unable to carry relief because of the currents.

Though the administration was trying to deal with the situation by dropping food packets, the situation was grim.

The floods have reportedly killed at least seven people although officials confirmed only two deaths. It has submerged thousands of acres of land, snapped electricity supply and disrupted road and train services in most of the affected areas.

“We have deployed a large number of boats, and hundreds of personnel of the Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and fire service in the affected areas to carry out relief and rescue operations,” Revenue Minister Manmohan Samal said.

The floods in West Bengal have left 1.6 million people marooned in the state and hit train services to neighbouring Orissa.

The army and air force have been carrying on rescue and relief operations after heavy monsoon rains lashed the state Tuesday and Wednesday. West and East Midnapore are the worst affected districts.

Army and air force personnel, deployed to assist the civil administration in the two districts, carried out rescue operations and supplied relief to flood victims in Narayangarh, Belda and Sabang areas of West Midnapore and a part of East Midnapore, a defence spokesman said in Kolkata.

Two hundred army personnel have been working day and night to rescue the marooned and provide dry food and relief material like tarpaulin sheets and blankets to the affected.

South Eastern Railway officials said long-distance train services between West Bengal and Orissa would be out of operation for three days due to water logging on the tracks.

Trains to other parts of the country ran as scheduled Thursday though at a slower pace in the Howrah-Kharagpur section due to damage to the tracks caused by the floods.

Chief Minister Madhu Koda told reporters in Jharkhand capital Ranchi: “Orissa opened the gates of two dams without informing us. This caused the flood in Jamshedpur.”

“Our government should have been informed before the dams’ gates were opened. We will ask the Orissa government to take suitable action against the officials involved in the act,” he added.

The rains have brought cheer to farmers but woes to residents of the urban areas of Ranchi and Jamshedpur, where some 100,000 people have been affected.

In Jamshedpur, the army has been pressed into service for relief work. Thirty boats are being used to shift people to safer places.

Speaking of the National Disaster Management Authority’s efforts, its member K.M. Singh said in New Delhi: “In Assam and Orissa, our National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) NDRF is carrying out relief working in co-ordination with other agencies,” he added.

“In Assam, five teams of NDRF comprising of about 200 members are helping in the relief work in flood hit areas such as Lakhimpur, Dhubri and Halakandi,” Singh told IANS.

In Orissa, two teams of the NDRF comprising of around 85 members are carrying out the relief work, he added.

“In 15 flood prone districts of Bihar, 30 teams of the NDRF are imparting comprehensive training to villagers to save themselves and others at the time of disasters such as flood and earthquakes,” Singh said.

In Maharashtra, 10 teams of the NDRF are working in vulnerable districts to ensure the people are prepared in case of floods.

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