India

Indian troops rescue 350 children trapped by flood

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AHMEDABAD, India, July 2 (Reuters) - Troops in motorboats rescued around 350 children from the first floor of their school hostel after it was surrounded by floodwaters in India's Gujarat state, where at least 123 people have died in monsoon flooding.

Soldiers and police snatched the students from the first floor after the ground floor of the building was submerged in Harup village, 75 km (45 miles) south of Gujarat's main city of Ahmedabad, witnesses and officials said.

"Our prime focus was to evacuate the children and take them to safer places," senior Gujarat government official Rajesh Kishore told Reuters.

Most deaths in Gujarat's floods have been due to drowning, electrocution and house collapses.

Officials said the severe week-long flooding had left more than 150,000 people homeless or stranded in their houses in the western state. Residents complained of shortages of food, medicines and materials to build temporary shelters.

Heavy rain and thick cloud prevented helicopters from flying on Saturday, limiting relief operations.

"It is an aerial tsunami," Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi told reporters in the state capital of Gandhinagar. Heavy monsoon rains have caused rivers to burst their banks.

Authorities admitted they were being stretched to the limit.

"The real challenge is to provide food, medicine and clothes to the needy. We are trying to reach out but bad weather has prevented us," Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah said.

Further flooding is feared as heavy downpours have been forecast for the next 48 hours.

Early on Saturday, waters receded in some areas, allowing about 400 passengers stuck in a train for over 30 hours to leave their carriages. Many walked to higher ground but some had to be rescued by army boats and local volunteers.

PRIVATE RESCUE OPERATION

About 90 of the passengers were rescued after a man who, on receiving a mobile phone message from his trapped wife, drove to dry land near the train and formed a human chain of local volunteers who stood in the water and brought women, children and older passengers to safety.

"It was my duty to help save others, besides my wife and daughter. The authorities were not doing anything," businessman Rajesh Seth told Reuters.

New Delhi has announced an aid package of 5 billion rupees ($115 million). But residents said more needed to be done.

"The situation here does not seem to be improving. We are helpless and waiting for the water to recede and get back to our normal lives," said S.G. Thomas, whose agricultural products warehouse in Vadodara, 110 km (70 miles) southeast of Ahmedabad, was damaged by flood waters.

Hundreds of factories were shut in the western state, India's second most industrialised, as were schools and colleges and offices.

"Water has entered my factory. To prevent any mishap, I have shut down production till the water level comes down," said Dhiren Mehta, who owns a textile plant in Ahmedabad.

Authorities were providing drinking water to homeless people living in schools and makeshift relief camps on higher ground.

Flooding during the June-September monsoon rains in India -- home to mighty rivers like the Ganges and Brahmaputra -- kills hundreds of people every year and leaves thousands homeless.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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