updated 8/28/2006 10:59:47 PM ET 2006-08-29T02:59:47

Unusual torrential downpours and floods have killed at least 132 people and left scores missing in a desert region in western India, an official said.

Paramilitary soldiers and local residents recovered nine more bodies on Monday, bringing the death toll from five days of heavy rains and flood in Rajasthan state to 132, Lalit K. Pawar, the state's top bureaucrat, said Monday.

Thousands of people were living in tents on higher ground after the unusual rains submerged their homes in Barmer district, about 375 miles southwest of New Delhi.

Barmer is part of the Thar desert which stretches across most parts of Rajasthan state bordering Pakistan. The region annually suffers from severe drought.

Farmers in Malwa, one of the worst-hit villages in Barmer, said just two weeks ago they were strengthening mud embankments as part of efforts to conserve the scant monsoon rains they receive each year. However, five days of downpours washed away the embankments, and almost all of the 200 mud and thatch houses in the village were washed away or submerged.

Local officials were struggling to provide food and clean drinking water to the thousands of survivors, some of whom were living in the open on higher ground.

"The unusual rainfall this year was a freak phenomenon which has not been recorded in the past 200 years," said Anil Chhangani, a university scientist in the nearby town of Jodhpur.

The damage was extensive. Hundreds of miles of roads, highways and railroad tracks were washed away. Hundreds of thousands of acres of croplands were submerged and thousands of farm animals perished when flood waters rose as high as 20 feet across large swaths of Barmer late on Thursday.

The rains have killed nearly 790 people this year across India, with most dying from drowning, being crushed by landslides or collapsed houses, or from electrocution. However, many areas don't keep accurate death tolls, and the total number of people killed is likely much higher.

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