Indian air force drops food to flood-hit people

VADODARA, India, July 4 (Reuters) - Indian military helicopters dropped food packets on Monday to thousands of people stranded in vast lakes of water in the west of the country as monsoon rains ebbed after flooding that killed 132 people.

Army and civil medical teams in motorboats and rubber dinghies struggled to deliver relief material to far-flung villages in Gujarat state where torrential rains have left 400,000 people homeless.

"I've lost my husband, my house has been swept away. I am living on the road and waiting for the government to help," said Phagun Chavda, a 45-year-old woman camping by a state highway.

Hundreds of people are living in relief camps or camping on highways leading to traffic snarls and a delay in aid in India's second most industrialised state where life has virtually come to a standstill because of the rains.

Authorities plucked out animal carcasses floating in water as fear of disease grew in Gujarat where rail services and telecommunications have been disrupted for days.

The air force evacuated more than 40 people late on Sunday from a village in Kheda district where 2,500 houses were washed away. Kheda is about 65 km (40 mile) south of the state's main city of Ahmedabad.

Troops have also rescued dozens of people stranded on rooftops and trees surrounded by brownish flood waters in the past two days.

"The challenge is to reach marooned villages in south Gujarat. We have not been able to enter these villages as they are completely submerged in water," said a senior army official.

Residents complained about a slow response from authorities.

"We have received food packets but the state government has been unable to provide any shelter," said Eshwar Chauhan, the headman of Suda village, who has converted motorised rickshaws into tents for villagers."

"It is tough for our children to survive in this weather."

Sonia Gandhi, the head of India's ruling Congress party, visited flood-stricken parts of Gujarat on Monday and promised to provide relief to people.

"People are complaining about not receiving cash doles. I have asked the state government to look into the matter and provide aid to needy people," Gandhi told reporters.

As the state -- one of the richest in India -- struggled to cope with the impact of the flooding, businessmen said industrial production in many areas had come to a halt.

Mahendra Sanghi, president of the Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry, estimated losses from the floods at about 100 billion rupees ($2.30 billion).

India's monsoon season, which runs from June to September, causes flooding every year, killing hundreds of people.

The rains, which have also caused havoc in neighbouring Bangladesh, ebbed in Dhaka but some two million people were still stuck in waist-high water in parts of the city. ($1 = 43.45 rupees)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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