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More Than 100 May Be Dead in India Floods

July 16, 2003

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ More than 100 people were feared dead in flash floods caused by a heavy rain Wednesday in a remote hill area in northern India, the state’s top elected official said.

The victims were mostly migrant workers from Nepal and the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh employed at the site of a hydroelectric project being built on a rivulet, said Birbhadra Singh, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh state.

``The estimate so far is that 100, or more than 100, people have been killed,″ he said.

The flooding occurred early Wednesday in the Garsa area of Kullu district, 220 miles north of the Indian capital, New Delhi. Television reports quoted unnamed officials as saying a tunnel and a road under construction were also washed away.

``There was a cloudburst in the higher mountains. The rivulet filled with water and washed away a lot of tents where the laborers were sleeping,″ A.K. Puri, the state’s police chief, told The Associated Press by telephone. Puri said police and rescue workers had recovered 16 bodies, but expected to find many more.

If the number is accurate, it would raise the toll from six weeks of monsoon rains in southeast Asia to about 400. Flooding and landslides from the heavy rains have damaged homes, crops, killed cattle and stranded some 7 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal since mid-June.

Singh said about 30 people were injured and had been brought to a hospital in Kullu, the nearest town from the scene of flooding.

There were about 250 to 300 people, including many children, at the site, said Jia Lal, a police officer in Kullu, the nearest township to the work site.

``We just kept running, with water gushing out behind us,″ Lal quoted one of the survivors as saying. Officials said they would need two to three days to get a better estimate of how many people had died.

The surging waters also washed away homes in Shillagarh, a village down the hills.

``Relief and rescue operations have begun. Local police along with the Indo-Tibetan Border Police are distributing food, blankets and clothing to the people,″ Singh said.

India has previously reported 76 deaths in the floods, most in northeastern Assam state where more than 3 million people have been cut off by the raging waters.

Bangladesh, where 2.5 million people are marooned by overflowing rivers, has reported 154 dead, government relief officials said.

Thousands of people in Bangladesh are camping on mud embankments or the roofs of their submerged houses in 25 of the country’s 64 districts. There are shortages of food and drinking water, and they are beginning to suffer from waterborne diseases, such as diarrhea.

In Nepal, a landslide swept through the remote, northeastern mountain village of Ikhabu, destroying two dozen houses and leaving at least four people missing, said Lekhnath Pokhrel of the Natural Calamity and Disaster Management Center in Katmandu. Floods, lightning strikes and mudslides have killed 67 people in Nepal.

In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, state officials said Wednesday that more than 1 million people have been affected by the floods, which have destroyed crops and almost 1,000 houses. The latest threat is from cholera and diarrhea, which has affected 250,000 people, District Magistrate Amrit Lal Meena said.

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