Tue Sep 23, 2008 12:11pm IST LUCKNOW, India, Sept 23 (Reuters) – The Indian army was called in to rescue tens of thousands of stranded villagers in northern India, officials said on Tuesday, as floods destroyed homes and swamped one of the country’s biggest tiger reserves.
At least 14 more people drowned overnight in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, raising the death toll from floods to more than 200 in the past four days, officials said.
Monsoon rains and floods have already killed 1,500 people in India and Nepal since June.
“The death toll could go up further,” G.K. Tandon, a senior Uttar Pradesh official said. “Excess water flow from the upper reaches of rivers coming from Nepal is likely to worsen the situation in some areas.”
Authorities used boats to rescue villagers after heavy rains over the weekend caused rivers to burst their banks and flood new areas. About 57,000 people have been evacuated to camps so far.
Television pictures showed soldiers trying to pull old women and children into a boat as others fought for a place.
Authorities said they were trying to trace tigers and other animals inside the Dudhwa National Park. In the country’s east, at least a quarter of a million people were still stranded in the coastal state of Orissa. Large parts of the state were flooded after authorities were forced to open sluice gates of a dam on the Mahanadi river due to heavy rain.
Those stranded said snakes and other reptiles were entering homes, forcing them to move to higher ground.
At least 29 people have been killed and 300,000 rescued so far, but there were still thousands living on highways and the rooftops of houses, waiting to be rescued, officials said.
Television pictures showed people covering their bodies with torn plastic sheets in heavy rain.
Farmers said they were ruined after floods damaged crops.
“Paddy crops in nearly 400,000 hectares (990,000 acres) have been submerged in the state,” said Arabinda Padhi, Orissa agriculture director.
Hundreds were looking for their missing relatives in Bihar, another eastern state, and many sent text messages to a local radio station after it opened a helpline.
“My wife Sheela (21) and my daughter Priti (1) are missing, please help us reunite,” one of the messages read.
At least 100,000 ha (250,000 acres) of farmland have been destroyed in Bihar and 230 people have lost their lives.
The monsoon usually hits India at the beginning of June and retreats in September and is key to irrigating farmland, but leaves in its wake massive destruction.