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Flooding Maroons 1.5M in India

August 31, 1998

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Overwhelmed rescue workers battled floodwaters Monday that have swept away entire villages and left some 1.5 million people marooned in northern India, officials said.

At least 32 people drowned in Uttar Pradesh state Sunday and Monday and 34 others died in a cholera epidemic caused by the flood, state official Ram Kumar Yadav said. The death toll from more than three weeks of flooding stands at 1,086.

Aid workers pulled bloated bodies from the turbulent waters Monday. But they found no trace of 20 isolated hamlets submerged in the unending stretch of water in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and one of its poorest.

Jeetendra Singh, a government administrator in the town of Gorakhpur, at the center of the disaster area, said an estimated 1.5 million villagers were trapped by floodwaters. Authorities were trying to fly in at least 300 sturdy motorboats from Calcutta and Bombay on air force planes.

Only 11 motorboats were in use, Singh said, forcing search teams to use hundreds of old cracked rowboats.

Thousands of acres of crops were submerged, along with tens of thousands of homes. Officials had not begun estimating the amount of damage to property and livestock.

Singh admitted the administration was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. Rescue work has been slow, he said, but several hundred residents have been brought to dry areas and were being housed in government shelters.

``The destruction is so overwhelming that rescue efforts seem futile,″ said Kripa Shankar Pandey, a reporter who lives in Gorakhpur.

At least one hastily built shelter was itself submerged, Pandey said. Refugees from the shelter swam to higher areas and were forced to spend the night in the rain, he said.

Meanwhile, air force helicopters dropped food and tarpaulins to people marooned on their rooftops.

Rivers in eastern Uttar Pradesh continued to rise. The Rapti River, which flows through Gorakhpur, broke through its embankment in 20 places. A power station south of Gorakhpur was shut down because of the rising water, and a railway station was submerged.

Two thousand trucks loaded with food and supplies were stranded on a national highway that links Gorakhpur to Lucknow, 150 miles to the west.

Authorities blocked underground sewers, fearing that floodwater would rush into areas of Gorakhpur that were still dry, but residents said the move caused refuse to contaminate drinking water.

Municipal authorities were trying to pump back the sewage, Singh said.

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