Bihar flood situation grim, millions cry for rescue (Roundup)

August 31st, 2008 - 10:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, Aug 31 (IANS) The surging waters of the Kosi river continued to rise in Bihar for the 14th day Sunday, inundating more areas as hundreds of villages remained under water and millions waited for rescue, and food.The water level in the flooded areas rose by two to three feet in several places as the river inundated new areas in Saharsa, Supaul, Araria and Madhepura - the worst-hit districts late Saturday night.

An official of the state disaster management department said Sunday that nearly 400,000 marooned people have been evacuated and about 150,000 people sheltered in 170 relief camps set up in the affected districts.

According to officials, over 2.5 million people have been affected by the floods in 1,598 villages spread over 15 districts.

On Sunday, over 200,000 cusecs water entered the state through the breached embankment of the Kosi.

Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Sunday assured all possible help to the affected people during his visit to Saharsa and Madhepura.

“We will ensure all possible help to affected people and will do everything to rescue all of them,” Lalu Prasad said in Saharsa.

He said the central government will not leave the affected in the lurch. “There will be no shortage of relief materials but first target is to evacuate them to safe place,” he said.

He said thousands were without food for days, as they had no access to outside world and no relief reached them yet. Some others were drinking polluted water and eating raw or soaked grains to survive.

”The situation is beyond imagination for people living in big cities,” Lalu Prasad said.

Angry villagers demanded that the worst hit districts of Madhepura, Supaul, Araria and Saharsa be “handed over” to the Indian Army to save the hundreds of thousands still trapped at oplaces in waist-deep floodwater.

“It is high time the state government handed over the districts to the army to save the lives of marooned people,” said Mundeshwar Yadav, a resident of Madhepura and now sheltered in a relief camp in Saharsa, about 225 km from Patna.

“People have lost faith in the state government and patience is running out,” said Bhola Sah, another flood victim at a relief camp.

The floods have claimed 35 lives, including 20 on Friday when a boat they were travelling in capsized in Madhepura.

A case was filed against Water Resources Development Minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav and some officials, holding them responsible for a breach in an embankment of the Kosi that triggered the devastating flood. The case, coming up for hearing Tuesday, was filed in the court of the chief judicial magistrate in Saharsa district Saturday.

Farmer leader Chatri Yadav in his petition said the minister and some engineers were responsible for the breach in the river embankment.

Earlier, a Patna-based lawyer Shruti Singh filed a public interest suit in the Patna High Court seeking the court’s direction to plug the breach. The court is likely to hear the case in a day or two.

Opposition leaders have also blamed the minister for the breach that has caused the worst floods in the last 50 years.

With thousands fleeing to escape flood waters, Madhepura town is on the verge of becoming a ghost town.

Over 80 percent habitants have fled and the remaining are trying to move to safer places, a district administration official said Sunday.

“Barely 10 to 15 percent of the town’s residents are living here,” Lalan Kumar Singh, a resident of Gulzarbagh, a colony in Madhepura town, about 250 km from here, told IANS on telephone Sunday.

According to Singh, more people were set to leave as the water level rose since Saturday.

District administration officials admitted that over 30,000 of the town’s 45,000 populace have fled since the last week.

The Kosi river, sometimes called the ‘Sorrow of Bihar’, changed its course after almost two centuries following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal.

Unlike annual floods, there is little hope that the waters of the Kosi will recede. The waters could be there till October and people have no option but to move to safer places, Singh said.

To assist the rescue and relief works, the Indian Navy has sent a team of 60 sailors, including 40 divers and two officers, to Bihar to undertake relief work in the flood-ravaged areas.

The team from the Western Naval Command left by a special flight Saturday night carrying diving equipment, 15 boats with powerful engines, life-saving equipment, first aid kits as well as tents.

Gujarat also sent 12 rescue teams, each equipped with a motorized boat and life-jackets.

Himachal Pradesh sent a grant of Rs.20 million to Bihar for carrying out relief and rehabilitation work.

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